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What Do Elite Russians Think? Rivera Answers.


Sharon Rivera
Sharon Rivera

Professor of Government Sharon Rivera co-authored an essay in The Washington Post’s “Monkey Cage” blog titled Russia’s referendum could keep Vladimir Putin in power until 2036. What do high-ranking Russians think? Published on July 1, that day concluded a weeklong period of voting in Russia on constitutional amendments that would allow President Putin to remain in office 16 more years.

Rivera and her co-author, Henry Hale of George Washington University, use new data from the Survey of Russian Elites (SRE) to explore the effects of Putin’s plan on his lame-duck status. Rivera recently co-directed the eighth wave in this survey.

Reviewing the results, the co-authors conclude that Putin may still have a lame-duck problem despite his likely extension of term limits as president. “Putin is now a little less lame than before, but only in some ways,” Rivera and Hale write. “Stability in Putin’s Russia hinges on the people around the president believing he will be in charge long into the future.”

On March 10, Putin added an additional amendment to the constitutional reforms that would reset his term-limit clock so he could run for two additional six-year presidential terms beginning in 2024. The week-long voting, postponed by the pandemic from April, kicked off June 25 with early polling and concluded July 1.

A Moscow-based partner conducted mostly face-to-face interviews (14 percent online) from Feb. 19 to March 19. Serendipitously, two-thirds of the survey responses were logged before Putin’s surprise March 10 announcement on the term limits extension vote, and one-third on or after that day. By comparing patterns in responses before and after March 10, Rivera and Hale were able to assess how Russia’s elites felt about Putin’s announcement. They outline four key ways that “Putin’s constitutional gambit has paid off in terms of mitigating his lame-duck problem,” but also some limitations.

The 2020 wave of the SRE interviewed Moscow-based elites connected in some way with foreign policy issues. The survey series includes 1,909 high-ranking individuals in Russia’s federal bureaucracy, parliament, military, and security agencies, state-owned enterprises, private businesses, scientific and educational institutions with strong international connections, and media outlets that were selected using quota sampling.

The survey was funded by the Levitt Public Affairs Center, the Office of the Dean of Faculty, the National Science Foundation, and the University of Michigan. Rivera involved Hamilton students from her spring course (Govt 333) and Levitt summer research group in the collection and analysis of the survey data.

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