As Russia’s presidential campaign swings into its final week, the only outstanding question is whether acting President Vladimir Putin can seal an historic victory by delivering a first-round knockout punch to his 10 opponents. And, although some polls showed Putin's rating dipping toward 50 percent, the majority show his support holding, indicating the acting president will secure the 51 percent required for a first-round victory.
"We don't expect a second round," said Alexei Grazhdankin, deputy head of the All-Russia Center for Public Opinion Research. "According to our latest poll, 58 percent of the electorate are going to vote for Putin." This figure is in contrast to a poll released last week by the ROMIR agency, which showed Putin's rating had slipped to exactly 50 percent.
Grazhdankin dismissed that figure, citing the Putin team's scaling back of its publicity as an indication the acting president has reached the upper threshold of his potential support and thus is clearly on track for a first-round victory. "Putin simply cannot attract any more
people to his side," Grazhdankin said. "A bad move [by Putin], though, could alienate some supporters. So he is quite right to avoid making declarations or engaging in debates that could foster disputes."
"Putin's electorate is quite mixed and not particularly stable," he added.
Others take a much more cynical view of what is likely to happen on Election Day to ensure a triumphant first round Putin victory.
"Putin needs a big win in the elections with a high voter turnout, so the governors will be competing with one another to produce the highest attendance in their region," said Mikhail Myagkov, a professor of political science at Oregon University, who is researching electoral fraud.
He says the governors will be tormented by the thought: "What if my neighboring governor gets more? Putin will be more partial toward him!" Myagkov said he is reasonably certain this will encourage the governors to pad votes in favor of Putin.
"As a result, in some places we are likely to see some funny [voting] results. The governors' strategy will be simple to play up to the boss, and they know that in this situation it is impossible to be too flattering," he said.
Myagkov bases this assessment on Putin's high level of support, saying it is impossible to exaggerate the acting president's lead, but that this works against him "It is clear that voter attendance will be very low, because the campaign has simply become too boring for the electorate," he said. "So the order will go out [from the Kremlin] to the regions to provide attendance."
Still, the acting president's opponents remain hopeful, believing some with deeper interests want a second round, and hence the opinion polls are not to be trusted.
"The oligarchs have no interest in only a single round of voting," said Andrei Andreyev, a spokesman for the Communist Party. "If Putin wins in one round, he will have no obligation to them. They would much prefer something closer to the Yeltsin scenario in 1996, when their assistance had a huge impact."
Andreyev conceded that there are not many positive signs indicating a second round will be required, although he said "a week is a long time in an electoral campaign." But he dismissed the opinion polls currently being proffered.
"Ratings are an aspect of public relations, an attempt to inspire the electorate. Incidentally, there are different ratings, those we see on ORT and NTV [television stations] and the closed ratings found by the FAPSI [Federal Agency for Communications and Information], but we will hardly know the results of the latter," he said, indicating government research would show Putin's real rating to be much lower.
Pollster Garzhdankin dismisses as "bizarre" the talk of special research by FAPSI that shows another result.
"These sources have minimal credibility, I would believe them as much as I would believe those suggesting Yavlinsky will score 30 percent not one bit. But in relation to special research, we have done some as well, focusing on provocative questioning," he said.
These include questions such as, "How would you vote if you knew this or that about a candidate?" Garzhdankin said. He said the measurement is used to test the tolerance of the electorate's preferences.
Indicative of the strength of Putin's support, Grazhdankin said, was that even if compromising information on him was revealed this week, the electorate would prefer to believe the acting president than the "kompromat." "We have already asked the question about the possible implication of Putin in the bombings in Moscow, and people scarcely believe it and those who do believe it were never going to vote for Putin anyway," he said.
The one point the pollster does concede to the Communists is that some forces, possibly oligarchs, are indeed talking-up the possibility of a second round. "But they are only doing so in order to overstate their contribution to Putin's victory," he said, adding that the only real assistance the acting president received was to be in the right place at the right time.