Why incumbents survive : authoritarian dominance and regime persistence in Russia
Title: Why incumbents survive : authoritarian dominance and regime persistence in Russia
Author: SKULKIN, Igor
Citation: Florence : European University Institute, 2018
Series/Number: EUI PhD theses; Department of Political and Social Sciences
Why do incumbents in electoral authoritarian regimes retain power? This study seeks to answer this fundamental question by linking electoral fraud and sincere voting for the incumbent with incumbent’s distributive politics and, accordingly, by looking at the puzzle of authoritarian survival from two perspectives. An elite-oriented incumbent’s strategy suggests that, unlike democracies, where distributive politics is primarily targeted at voters, authoritarian incumbents inevitably have to deliver benefits to political elites in order to secure their loyalty, which is eventually converted into electoral fraud, repression of the opposition forces, persecution of the media, refraining from challenging the incumbent, and other authoritarian policy outcomes. A mass-oriented incumbent’s strategy implies that, if electoral competition is not meaningless, authoritarian incumbents also have to deliver benefits to the general public in order to secure genuine mass support, which eventually results in sincere voting for the incumbent. This argument is tested on cross-regional data from Russia as a prominent case of persistent electoral authoritarianism. The analysis begins with a poorly studied but an immanent element of any kind of authoritarianism – electoral fraud perpetrated by political elites and their local agents. Having developed a novel measure of electoral fraud forensics based on quintile regression, I demonstrate that electoral fraud in the Russian 2000–2012 presidential elections played a typical role for electoral authoritarianism: it was neither outcome-changing as it occurs in closed authoritarian regimes nor intrinsically sporadic as in electoral democracies, but it was widespread and hardly avoidable by the incumbent. The study then dwells on examination of the federal transfers to regional budgets as a type of public and formally legal yet politically motivated distribution. Not only were the central transfers allocated to the regions according to the principle of electoral allegiance to the federal incumbent presidents, but it also appears that, as authoritarian regime was consolidating over time, the larger amount of transfer funds was allocated to the bureaucracy (as part of the regime’s elite clientele) in order to secure its loyalty. The loyalty of regional elites, in its turn, was eventually converted into distinct authoritarian policy outcomes, including electoral fraud and persecution of the media. This resulted in a general bias of the electoral playing field and, thereby, contributed to sustaining the authoritarian equilibrium. By contrast, the analysis finds no evidence that the politicized transfers influenced sincere voting for the incumbent. These mixed findings indicate that popular support under electoral authoritarianism is still puzzling and calls for further examination, whereas securing loyalty of political elites via delivering them clientelist benefits is crucial for regime survival in personalist electoral dictatorships.
Defence date: 20 September 2018; Examining Board: Hanspeter Kriesi, European University Institute (Supervisor); Vladimir Gelman, European University at Saint Petersburg; Anton Hemerijck, European University Institute; John Ora Reuter, University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee
Type of Access: openAccess