Value-Added Guess Wins Pollster Award

The Central Elections Committee handed out awards Wednesday to the polling agencies that made the most accurate forecasts of the March presidential election.

But one victorious pollster said the science of political forecasting in Russia involves guessing the degree of manipulation by authorities.

In a statement on its web site, the elections committee called the March 2 presidential vote a triumph for the science of polling in Russia.

"On the whole, forecasting of the results of the 2008 Russian presidential elections can be called highly accurate," the statement said. "Most of the research centers participating in the survey successfully fulfilled the task."

One winner, the Moscow-based Center for Political Technologies, took the prize for predicting voter turnout. Its prediction of 69 percent was less than one percentage point away from the final, official turnout figure of 69.8 percent.

"All the agencies are competing, trying to sense what the turnout is supposed to be," CPT director Igor Bunin said by telephone Wednesday.

To predict turnout, CPT conducts voter surveys and then estimates how many votes will be added through government pressure, said Bunin, whose center won a similar award last year after it made a nearly dead-on prediction of voter turnout in the State Duma elections.

"We predict a certain turnout, and then we add in administrative resources," Bunin said. "This is usually about 4 percent."

The term "administrative resources" describes a range of ways in which authorities can influence the outcome of an election, from giving candidates blanket coverage on state television to forcing students, soldiers and doctors to turn out for the vote.

Besides turnout, the elections committee handed out awards in two other categories: the winner's share of the vote and the distribution of the vote between the four candidates.

Those agencies that came closest to the final, official result took the prize. Some winners beat their competitors by less than a percentage point.

The award for the winner's share of the vote went to the Public Opinion Foundation, a prominent Moscow research center, while the award for the four-way distribution of the vote went to the more obscure Region-M research center in Saransk.

Bunin said he was satisfied with retaining his title as the country's best forecaster of voter turnout. "It's always pleasant to be the winner," he said.