Victory in Russia Election Assured, Putin Seeks High Turnout

However, Mr. Fedorov said, “Miracles happen only rarely.”

Even if a large turnout fails to materialize, analysts said, the Kremlin is determined to discourage cheating to make the elections at least appear legitimate and to ward off a repeat of the street protests that questioned the 2012 results.

“Putin wants the elections to look honest,” said Dmitri Oreshkin, a political scientist and Kremlin critic. But that means motivating Russians to go to the polls.

Victory in Russia Election Assured, Putin Seeks High Turnout
Victory in Russia Election Assured, Putin Seeks High Turnout

At first, as several Russian news outlets reported, the goal was the “70/70” formula, meaning the administration wanted Mr. Putin to start his fourth presidential term having secured 70 percent of the vote with a turnout of 70 percent.

It would match the roughly 70 percent support and 70 percent turnout that Dmitri A. Medvedev won in 2008 as Mr. Putin’s substitute for one term as president. At a minimum, by many accounts, Mr. Putin wants to surpass the nearly 64 percent support he received in 2012 with a turnout of more than 65 percent.


A poster for Mr. Putin in Moscow. His biggest challenge is voter apathy.Credit Alexander Zemlianichenko/Associated Press

Trustworthy polling numbers are elusive, but most analysts believe Mr. Putin will fall well short of his goal, with turnout of around 55 to 60 percent and support at about the same or slightly higher.

Particularly vexing for the Kremlin is that Mr. Putin’s current numbers do not match his favorability ratings, which have consistently been above 80 percent since he annexed Crimea in 2014.

Clearly, though, Russian voters are less and less interested in voting, as all manifestations of vitality have been drained from the process. Free elections, a free news media, free political parties and other hallmarks of democracy have been gradually eliminated or sharply restrained, starting even before Mr. Putin first became president in 2000 but accelerating thereafter.

Barely 48 percent of the electorate turned out for the September 2016 parliamentary elections, although the presidential vote is expected to generate greater interest.

The oddball characters the Kremlin has allowed to oppose Mr. Putin are not about to light any electoral fires, with their support mired in single digits.


The smattering of Kremlin-approved liberals in the race include Ksenia Sobchak, a reality TV star and the daughter of Mr. Putin’s political mentor.Credit Kirill Kudryavtsev/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“Some figures are allowed in, like backup dancers,” said Lev D. Gudkov, director of the Levada Center. Perhaps the most reliable polling organization on Russian politics, the center just announced it would sit out the election, having been labeled a “foreign agent” for receiving grants from abroad, and thus barred by law from political activity.

The most recognizable candidate is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, 71, a wily nationalist known for his political antics who has been a stalwart of the opposition for decades. Another perennial, Gennadi Zughanov, 73, the Communist Party leader who has run in four presidential elections and nearly won in 1996, has dropped out.

The surprise Communist Party candidate is Pavel N. Grudinin, 57, the director of a farming enterprise whose name, the Lenin State Farm, is redolent of the Communist era. But his ownership stake in what is actually a privatized agricultural company pays him more than $350,000 a year, inspiring the moniker “Communist Billionaire” on social media.

The smattering of liberals includes Ksenia Sobchak, 36, a reality TV star and the daughter of Mr. Putin’s political mentor, as well as Grigory Yavlinsky, 65, another longtime opposition figure.

None represents a real challenge to Mr. Putin.

There is one surefire way for the Kremlin to electrify the voters — allowing the candidacy of Alexei A. Navalny, Russia’s most outspoken and best-organized opposition figure. Instead, it has barred him from the race, and a Moscow court has shuttered the legal entity that pays the rent for his campaign offices in 84 cities and the wages for several hundred campaign workers.


Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a wily nationalist known for his political antics, at a dog shelter in Moscow.Credit Yuri Kochetkov/European Pressphoto Agency

Mr. Navalny is pushing for an election boycott, though some analysts consider that unwise because it might reveal an embarrassing shallowness in his support if it has little impact. He has also called for nationwide protests on Sunday.

In about 15 regions of Russia, what Mr. Oreshkin calls “electoral sultanates,” Mr. Putin can count on Soviet-style support. In the Chechen Republic under the strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, for example, Mr. Putin in 2012 received more than 99 percent of the votes cast with more than 99 percent turnout.

Those regions account for only about 10 percent of the electorate, however, and fantastic numbers like those in Chechnya are considered an embarrassment in the modern era.

If there is an element of competition in the race, it is actually between senior bureaucrats to see who can generate the most support for Mr. Putin. The prize might be a federal post, with expectations high that Mr. Putin will try to dispel a certain sense of stagnation by shaking up his cabinet after the election.

Regional leaders will resemble carnival barkers as they try to lift the numbers, turning Election Day into something of a festival, Russian news outlets have reported. That includes fairs, flash mobs spurring people to vote and possible prizes like a new iPhone for the most creative selfie posted from a polling place.

Much of it is aimed at getting young people to the polls. Senior citizens and the budgetniki, the Russian term for state employees, have the habit of voting as a civic duty left over from Soviet days. Those younger than 40 do not.

“The president does not want to be elected by the elderly and the budgetniki. He wants to be elected by the young,” said Igor Mintusov, a veteran Moscow political consultant.

Ultimately, elections in Russia tend to set Western methods on their head.

“In a Western, U.S.-style campaign, the procedure is certain, but the result — who will win — is uncertain,” Mr. Mintusov said. “In Russia the procedure is uncertain, but the result is certain.”

Oleg Matsnev contributed reporting.

A version of this article appears in print on January 26, 2018, on Page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Putin, After Thinning Candidates’ Ranks, Wants Crowds at the Polls. Order Reprints|Today’s Paper|Subscribe

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