Who’s Cueing Voters: Parties or Leaders? Evidence from a Survey Experiment in Russia

Sergey Sanovich (New York University)

Abstract: Do Russian voters, as it is widely claimed, care more about politicians' faces than about policies of the parties they lead? In this paper, I analyze the extent to which Russian voters respond to policy cues from leaders versus the same policy cues from political parties, and how important party association versus executive position is to the cueing capacity of the incumbent country leaders. Implemented as an endorsement survey experiment, this approach allows removing endogeneity that hampered previous attempts to compare support that people lend to parties and leaders. In addition to providing a reliable estimate of personalization of politics in Russia (both for the incumbent and the opposition), I show how Vladimir Putin is able to use the weakness of the party he leads strategically, to claim victories without taking responsibility for the failures. This paper lays the groundwork for a wider project that will use similar survey experimental tools to compare the degree of personalization across countries and political systems – a vital sign that was always considered important for developing countries but is rapidly becoming relevant in many established democracies as well.