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Who Supported Lebed?

Who are Alexander Lebed's supporters? How these voters act in the second round is one of the two critical factors that will determine whether Boris Yeltsin or Gennady Zyuganov is Russia's next president.


Characterizing Lebed as a nationalist, opposition candidate, analysts writing before the first round asserted that the general would steal votes from the Communists and Vladimir Zhirinovsky. In the second round, therefore, these voters would gravitate back to Zyuganov. Even after the first round, many observers continue to argue that most of Lebed's voters would not embrace Yeltsin. For instance, the Federal Security Service (the former KGB) circulated reports last week that 80 percent of Lebed supporters planned to back Zyuganov in the second round. Lebed's own aides have cited similar figures. As further evidence, Lebed campaign officials remarked last week that the initial reaction among Lebed activists to the Lebed-Yeltsin alliance was very negative.


Looking from the bottom up, instead of the top down, however, Yeltsin appears better placed than Zyuganov to win over Lebed's supporters.


Lebed won almost 11 million votes, or 14.7 percent of the total vote, in the first round of the presidential race, 8 million more votes than he and his electoral bloc, KRO, won in December 1995. Determining from where these new voters came provides a good indicator as to where they will go in the second round.


When analyzed region by region, it becomes obvious that Lebed captured a large portion of his new voters from Zhirinovsky. Especially in the Far East, there is a very direct correlation between Lebed's new success and Zhirinovsky's new defeat. Typical is the vote swing in Magadan. In 1995, Zhirinovsky won 22.5 percent of the vote in this Far Eastern province, while Lebed's KRO won 8.8 percent.


In 1996, Zhirinovsky won 11 percent in Magadan (still well above his national average but significantly less than in 1995) while Lebed won an amazing 24 percent of the vote. As electoral support for all other contenders in Magadan remained relatively stable between 1995 and 1996, Zhirinovsky appears to have lost nearly half of his former supporters to Lebed. Most of the Far East, known for supporting populist candidates throughout Russia's electoral history, follows a similar pattern.


So will the former Zhirinovsky supporters vote for Zyuganov in the second round? Polling data conducted soon after the 1995 parliamentary election suggests most will not. Exit polling carried out by the Foundation for Public Opinion in January 1996 demonstrated that Zhirinovsky's electorate consisted of two types of voters. Half of his electorate resembled the demographic profile of Communist Party supporters -- rural, poor, and alienated from the new market system. However, an almost equal percentage of Zhirinovsky supporters were sharply distinguished from the typical communist backer. This part of Zhirinovsky's 1995 electorate was more affluent, lived in medium-sized cities, supported market reform, but was not satisfied with the Yeltsin regime. This kind of voter most likely abandoned Zhirinovsky in 1996 in favor of the new "third force," Lebed. Though they may find it difficult to support Yeltsin, they are even less likely to vote for a communist. In other words, this part of Lebed's electorate -- by my estimation, as much as 4 million votes -- will probably stay home, might vote for Yeltsin, and only rarely will cast the ballot for Zyuganov.


What about the other Lebed voters? Again, a regional comparison of the June 16 results with the December 1995 parliamentary elections reveals that Lebed also picked up new support from both the so-called democratic opposition vote and the amorphous centrist or (swamp) vote. For instance, Lebed performed above his national average in 1996 in several areas in which Yavlinsky had done well in 1995 including Rostov, Murmansk, Yaroslavl, Chelyabinsk, and St. Petersburg. In these reformist-oriented regions, Lebed won votes away from Yavlinsky as well as consolidated the centrist vote that was spread out among dozens of small electoral blocs in 1995. Especially with Lebed now in the Kremlin, this part in Lebed's vote -- also around 4 million votes -- can be expected to vote for Yeltsin in the second round.


There is little evidence to suggest that Lebed actually won significant numbers of votes away from the Communists. Lebed appears to have had little effect on this very stable and loyal part of Russia's electorate.


Finally, the remarkably accurate Mitofsky International/CESSI exist poll conducted on election day revealed that 44 percent of Lebed's supporters planned to vote for Yeltsin in the second round, while only 34 percent planned to back Zyuganov. This balance of support existed before Lebed joined forces with Yeltsin, before Lebed removed the very unpopular defense minister Pavel Grachev, and before the purge of Alexander Korzhakov, Mikhail Barsukov, and Oleg Soskovets. In fact, when factoring in the support Yeltsin will receive from Yavlinsky's supporters and the ambiguous leanings of Zhirinovsky and his followers, it is difficult to see how Yeltsin can lose the second round.


Paradoxically, however, the perception of inevitable victory could become the very factor that brings Yeltsin down. As hinted above, the Lebed vote is only one of two critical variables between rounds; turnout is the second. If 70 percent of Russia's voters come to the polls next week, Yeltsin wins by a landslide. Once turnout drops below 60 percent, however, the race becomes close. To counteract campaign fatigue and voter indifference and win the second round, Yeltsin will need not only Lebed's voters but Lebed's charisma and mobilization skills. Expect to see a lot of the general in the coming week.





Michael McFaul is professor of political science at Stanford University and a senior associate at the Moscow Carnegie Center. He contribute this comment to The Moscow Times.

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