Photo 1: A ballot is cast in Russia

Over the weekend (15-17 March) Russians will vote in the presidential elections. According to the Russian State news Ria Telegram channel, even the Russian astronauts are given the opportunity to cast their vote from outer space! As the polls open across Russia today no one really doubts the outcome; But how legitimate will the results be…?

Democracy in Russia

The answer to this question and the role democracy plays in Russia has been widely debated. Dr George Gallup famously said “if democracy is the will of the people, then somebody had better go out and measure it”. So how do Russians view democracy today?  Our survey, which compares the views of Russians with nationally representative samples in 43 countries around the world, suggests that Russians have a unique experience of democracy.

When we ask whether people agree or disagree that “democracy may have its flaws but it is the best system of governance” only one in five (22%) agree with this statement. In the UK by comparison, two thirds (67%) agree and in countries that are relatively new to democracy such as Iraq, the majority (52%) still think it is the best system of governance. (Gallup International End of Year Survey,2023)

The dishonesty and corruption that takes place during elections is widely acknowledged. When we asked Russians whether they expect the elections to be “free and fair”, only one in five (22%) believed they would be (compared with 49% in the US, 61% in the UK and 58% across the EU) and qualitative research shows a lack of enthusiasm around the election. (Gallup International End of Year Survey,2023)

Despite this, the public are satisfied with the results of these elections as they serve a ‘symbolic purpose’ with 78% of Russians believing that Putin should remain president. Focus groups suggest that this is driven by either a genuine support for him or a fear of change and a worse alternative. There is also great concern that changing leadership during the SMO would be more dangerous and undermine the stability of the country; something of paramount importance to the Russian public.

Photo 2: Russian President Vladimir Putin

The Role of SMOs

Prior to President Putin’s “Special Military Operation” (SMO), opinion was divided for whether the country is heading in the right direction. The SMO has turned the state of affairs in his favor; according to the latest data, the majority (80%) now believe the country is moving in the right direction and 85% approve of Putin’s presidency. (Levada N=1000 Survey, January 2024)

These results mirror the boosts seen during the 2008 Georgian war and 2014 annexation of Crimea (Nov 2023) and focus groups conducted with Russian citizens consistently confirm that President Putin has made Russia a great power. This helps explain the result in the last election in 2018, where President Putin won 77% of the vote, with a reported turnout of 68%.

This year’s ‘Legitimate Sham’

This year, all eyes will be on the turnout. Abstinence from voting is the only way to send out a message with alternative candidates either banned from standing, in prison, or dead. Therefore, the result of the election is likely to be understood as a ‘legitimate sham’, with Putin’s popularity genuine but the process of the presidential election not an appropriate means to measure this. We will watch with interest and continue tracking data and forming in-depth insights.


ORB International has been tracking public opinion in Russia since 1994 and currently has a program of qualitative and quantitative research throughout the region. For further information please contact or