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CFR.org

A daily guide to the most influential analysis from the Council on Foreign Relations, publisher of Foreign Affairs.

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Why Yeltsin Won: A Russian Tammany Hall
Daniel Treisman
From Foreign Affairs, September/October 1996

Article preview: first 500 of 4,022 words total.

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Summary:  Reporters and pundits have spun many theories as to why Yeltsin won. None of them matches the polling data. Clever campaigning, anticommunist scare tactics, even efforts to end the war in Chechnya came at the wrong time. Boris Yeltsin passed Gennadi Zyuganov in the polls only when he traveled the country ladling out pork. Yeltsin doubled the minimum pension and paid off the backlog in wages. A Vorkuta coal miner asked for a car -- and got it. A presidential aide slipped a bystander a handful of cash. High-minded criticism from the West notwithstanding, Tammany tactics are hardly unknown in Western politics, and they did keep a communist out of office.

  Daniel Treisman is Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of California, Los Angeles, and Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard University's Davis Center for Russian Studies.

Of Related Interest

Topics:
Russia, CIS, and Central Asia
Political Systems

Rulers and Victims: The Russians in the Soviet Union
Geoffrey Hosking. Belknap Press, 2006.

Putin's Russia: Life in a Failing Democracy
Anna Politkovskaya. Metropolitan Books, 2005.

Virtual Politics: Faking Democracy in the Post-Soviet World
Andrew Wilson. Yale University Press, 2005.

Leading Russia: Putin in Perspective; Essays in Honour of Archie Brown
Edited by Alex Pravda. Oxford University Press, 2005.

The Soviet Century
Moshe Lewin. Verso, 2005.
Boris Yeltsin's rise from the depths of unpopularity to win Russia's presidential election in July is one of the most surprising feats of recent political history. As of January, only six percent of voters planned to support the incumbent-fewer than half the number intending to vote for his main rival, communist leader Gennadi Zyuganov. Yeltsin's victory broke a pattern observable across almost all the postcommunist democracies of Eastern Europe, in which disenchanted voters rejected the first crop of reformers when they stood for reelection. And it confounded the expectations of a long string of early doubters, ranging from Russian and Western journalists, CIA analysts, and some of the president's closest aides to-by her own admission-his wife, Naina.

How did Yeltsin beat these odds? Public opinion polls cast doubt on the explanations that have been offered in the press both inside and outside Russia. The conventional wisdom-as after any unexpected election victory-is that the candidate conducted an extremely intelligent and professional campaign. But was it really? Handicapped by internal feuding, run at one point from five competing power centers, and lavishly overspending on advertising, the campaign continually seemed to risk falling into the overconfident, patronizing, or office-exploiting style that had undermined pro- government blocs in previous Russian elections. Nor could Yeltsin's victory be attributed to favorable economic trends. During his first term, GDP fell 50 percent, income inequality and unemployment grew, and hyperinflation wiped out many families' savings. Although real incomes picked up a little in the spring-rising four, five, and three percent in February, March, and April, respectively-they fell again by five percent in May on the eve of the election's first round.

Some observers credited Yeltsin's victory to a series of subtle television advertisements in which ordinary people told their life stories and explained why they planned to support the president. However well-conceived these ads were, by the time the official television campaign began on May 14 Yeltsin had already surpassed Zyuganov in the preferences of voters looking ahead toward a second round (see figure). And the pace of his rise started to slacken soon after the advertisements began to air. Second, Yeltsin's appointment of the popular general, Aleksandr Lebed, to head the Security Council, although thought to have won over crucial nationalist and centrist voters, was not followed by any appreciable rise in the president's popularity. Before Yeltsin's dramatic gesture, 53 percent planned to vote for him in the second round, just 0.7 percent fewer than actually did so on July 3.

Although respondents regularly put it at the top of their list of priorities, Yeltsin's efforts to end the war in Chechnya do not seem to have helped him much either. A first attempted truce in late March quickly unraveled, perhaps explaining a slight drop in the president's first-round support in early April. A second, somewhat more successful, cease-fire signed in late May simply came too late to account for much of the rise in his support, as did Yeltsin's decrees eliminating conscription by the year 2000 and making service ...

End of preview: first 500 of 4,022 words total.



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