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    PUTIN THE UNRIVALLED LEADER OF THE PRESIDENTIAL RACE

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    By Nikolai Zherebtsov, RIA Novosti analyst

    President Vladimir Putin has extremely high chances of winning the March 14 presidential elections in Russia, as he is leagues ahead of all other candidates in the race. Today, 67% of the electorate would cast their ballots for him, which promises him 80% of the vote, reports the VTsIOM National Public Opinion Research Centre of Yuri Levada.

    The data were collected in a series of public opinion polls conducted in the second half of February. Each part of the poll involved 1,600 respondents from 100 settlements in 40 regions. Putin supporters make up the most active part of the electorate, 74% of whom are interested in the forthcoming election. As many as 95% of Putin's electorate are supporters of United Russia, the parliamentary majority party in the State Duma, where it holds 305 of the 450 seats.

    Observers note that the supporters of the party of power (United Russia) are not the only group ready to vote for Putin. The poll showed that 67% of the electorate of the Yabloko party (which is called democratic in Russia), 66% of those who traditionally vote for Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party (LDPR), 64% of the electorate of the Union of Right Forces (SPS), and 63% of the supporters of the Rodina (Homeland) bloc (most of whom profess patriotic views) intend to vote for Putin. Moreover, 63% of those who did not take part in the December 2003 elections to the State Duma plan to vote for the incumbent president. This means that the palette of Putin's supporters embraces all elements of the political scene from left to right.

    Only 5% of the electorate will support Communist Party candidate Nikolai Kharitonov. Most of them are over 55, did not go to university and have a modest income. 64% of Kharitonov's electorate voted for the KPRF at the Duma elections, while 26% did not attend the parliamentary elections.

    Sergei Glazyev, leader of the Homeland faction in the Duma, could win 4% of the vote. Men and women (mostly aged over 55) are equally represented in his electorate; they are not university graduates and describe their material standing with the phrase, "We have money enough for food, but clothes are a different matter."

    Glazyev's electorate is active: about 80% of the respondents who said they would vote for him plan to go to the polling stations. They are closely following the twists and turns of the election race and a half of them discuss them within the family circle. However, a third of his electorate thinks the approaching elections are pointless because Putin has no genuine rivals.

    When asked what other candidate they would vote for, Glazyev's supporters named Putin and Kharitonov. Over half of them said they would not vote in any circumstances for Irina Khakamada and a third part dismissed Ivan Rybkin. Glazyev's hypothetical voters are mostly supporters of the Homeland bloc and the KPRF.

    Independent candidate Irina Khakamada's supporters (about 2% of the respondents) are the least active part of the electorate. A quarter of them either will not come to the polling stations or are undecided. Women make up 80% of those who plan to vote for Khakamada; they are in the 25-39 and 39-54 age brackets, have a moderate income and voted for the SPS (of which Khakamada is a member) in the parliamentary elections. Half of them support "democrats" (as the advocates of the market reforms were called in the early 1990s as opposed to Communists), while 20% have no political sympathies.

    When asked what other candidate they would vote for, Khakamada's supporters named Putin and Glazyev. The potential voters of Khakamada have a clearly formulated "anti-rating list of presidential candidates" - about 50% of them would point blank refuse to vote for Kharitonov, Malyshkin or Putin.

    The above analysis provides information only about those candidates who would hypothetically get more than 1% of the vote. According to sociologists, Sergei Mironov, leader of the Party of Life and speaker of the Federation Council, Oleg Malyshkin of LDPR and independent candidate Ivan Rybkin will not surpass this figure.

    However, many analysts believe that the main question of the forthcoming elections is not who will win, as few doubt that it will be Vladimir Putin. The main question is, Will he win in the first round? The trouble is that since the people are sure of the election outcome, the turnout may be under 50%, which will mean that there will be a second round. But, as the latest polls show, the majority of the people intend to come to the polling stations on March 14.

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