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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

No Questions Asked

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Sociologists will be studying voter behavior during the State Duma election campaign for a long time. It is well known that voters in post-Communist countries behave quite differently from those in democratic Western nations. And Russian politicians cater to voters' expectations, however strange this may appear to observers.

United Russia, the party headed toward a hands-down victory in the upcoming election, is campaigning under the slogan "Putin's Plan." According to a recent survey by the Levada Center, 65 percent of the population believes that President Vladimir Putin really has a well-defined plan for transforming the country.

But if Putin has such a remarkable plan, it seems that ordinary human curiosity would prompt people to want to know more detailed information about it. Two months have passed since "Putin's Plan" was first announced, during which time dozens of meetings have been held across the country in support of the plan with appeals to the president to remain in power after his term expires. Nevertheless, the Levada Center reports that only 6 percent of those polled say they can explain what the plan is.

In addition, 47 percent said they had not heard anything about the plan. This last figure is particularly surprising. With the media constantly trumpeting the plan, the only way people could have missed hearing about it is if they had never turned on their television sets or radios. Most likely, this group of people was determined to avoid learning anything about the plan. This should concern the Kremlin ideologists, because this would mean that their propaganda efforts had no impact on this large group of people.

Meanwhile, televised political debates have started. United Russia, in its typical haughty fashion, refused to participate, leaving the remaining 10 registered parties to debate among themselves. In any other country claiming to be democratic, any party's decision to avoid the debates would amount to political suicide, even if the party were far ahead in the polls. But this is not the case in Russia, where debates have never had any effect on voters' behavior.

The current election campaign is no exception. The first round of debates demonstrated that the candidates had nothing to offer viewers except empty slogans and appeals to vote for their parties by marking its corresponding number on the ballot.

Participants in the debates have not even bothered to comment on or clarify their positions on concrete issues that are often discussed in the mass media and that are of concern to many voters. As a result, important problems such as expensive mortgages, the sharp rise in food prices, health care and education were never debated in depth. Instead, candidates offered only platitudes that these items should be made more affordable or free.

Similarly, there was a lack of constructive debate about the pension-fund deficit. In its place, we only heard populist appeals to raise pensions and salaries without a word about where the money would come from to pay for these huge expenditures. The only topic that received more than cursory treatment was taxes, with a few parties advocating a progressive tax scale on personal incomes.

Considering how superficial the debates have turned out to be, it now makes sense why United Russia refused to participate in them. Yet even if United Russia had joined the debates, it would have hardly improved their quality, judging by the equally superficial treatment it has given to "Putin's Plan," where voters have received a lot of bombastic, patriotic video clips but very little substance. In these remarkable videos, we see a lot of wheat being harvested, warplanes streaking across the sky and the sun rising above Mother Russia.

We also see in these political advertisements lots of smiling, extremely contented people. It seems that they sincerely believe that everything will turn out fine, and -- most important -- they don't ask any unnecessary questions.

Georgy Bovt is a political analyst and hosts a radio program on City FM.