MOSCOW, Russia — A new government marketing campaign asks young Russian voters to do something seemingly harmless: take selfies at polling stations after voting in the March 2018 presidential election. The author of the best picture will get one of prizes that include iPhones and iPads, no doubt a tempting prospect for such a simple task.
This contest is nothing but the Kremlin’s latest idea to attract 18- to 39-year-olds to polling stations. Russian media outlet RBC leaked a document last week that detailed the program and how it aimed to use selfies and prizes to create higher voter turnouts.
The organizational part of the government scheme kicks off on January 16. Local authorities have been directed to take steps to raise awareness about the initiative, which was tested in seven cities during the September 2017 local elections.
The move is the latest government attempt to overcome voter apathy and make sure that young people – especially those who rallied for the the opposition leader Alexey Navalny, barred from the election – show up at polling stations in March with more sympathetic views toward authorities.
In every corner of the city of Moscow, as well as in other Russian cities and airports, numerous posters have already been placed to remind Russian citizens that March 18 is the election date. The posters read, “March 2018. Presidential Elections of Russia,” and contain the colors of the Russian flag.
In two months Russians will be deciding who will govern the country for the next six years. According to the Russian analytical Levada-Center, Mr. Putin’s popularity still holds at more than 80 percent. However, ensuring the overall success of the presidential election with high voter turnout continues to be a challenge.
“Would I take take a selfie? I think this idea is just a joke and it won’t mobilize young voters in the upcoming 2018 elections,” Vadim, a 38-year-old Muscovite who moved from Novosibirsk to Moscow more than 15 years ago, told The Globe Post. “If a 20-year-old guy will go voting it won’t be because of an iPhone but because of his or her choice.”
While looking at the elections’ poster hung up in the central Arbat street in Moscow, Vadim admits he doesn’t know if he will be voting in March.
“I don’t see any real opposition in Russia and I consider Putin a serious person, this is enough for me, no matter if I will go voting or not,” he said.
Maria, a 30-year-old Russian teacher, thinks that a lot of people will not vote in the elections because they don’t support any of the candidates.
“I don’t think that the perspective of getting an iPhone will attract this category of people. On the opposite, a lot of them would probably feel irritated by the government’s tricks because instead of solving some real problems they just try to build a nice facade for the press,” she told The Globe Post.
“I did not hear about these contests but I know for sure that I won’t take part in them. Probably I won’t even go to the elections because the candidate that I supported [Mr. Navalny] was not allowed to participate. If a lot of voters won’t show up, it will demonstrate people’s attitude towards the political situation. In my opinion voter turnout can increment by increasing political competition and not by having some kind of games or contests,” she concluded.
Election officials have hired two Russian PR agencies in a $13 million effort to boost youth turnout. One of them had suggested to use memes and selfies to boost the vote. These efforts will make the next election ludicrous in a way. Other youth voter turnout ideas from the Kremlin include professional skills tests for children, referendums on school-related issues, and contests for parents who show up at the polls with their kids.
Russian broadcast journalist Artem Filatov believes the turnout of the upcoming presidential elections is a crucial issue for Mr. Putin’s administration. “The majority of Russians perceive the presidential elections as a formal procedure which has nothing to do with the real competition,” he told The Globe Post. “Selfies and competitions make a voting procedure not a serious political choice but a kind of a show; I see this as a compensation for a lack of political competition.”