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Election officials prepare a voting booth in the village of Gusino, outside Smolensk, western Russia, on Sept. 17, 2016. Photo: Sergei Grits / AP

The Kremlin has no worries that Vladimir Putin will be re-elected with a commanding majority on March 18. Securing a commanding turnout could still be a headache, however.

Legitimacy matters to Russia's leadership, which has a "70/70 plan": 70% turnout, 70% of the vote for Putin. But recent polling suggests closer to 60% plan to vote, with some experts predicting a drop as far as 53%. So what's sapping enthusiasm?

  • Putin's announcement last week of his intention to seek a fourth term removed the only real intrigue from the race. With no viable opposition candidates running, there's little incentive to participate in an effectively pre-determined vote.
  • Economic growth has stalled: The fastest Russia's GDP has grown since 2013 is 2%, and most people have seen their real disposable income shrink in that time. At the end of the day, pocketbook issues outweigh geopolitics.

To boost turnout, the election was moved to the anniversary of the annexation of Crimea, though Putin's surge in support after that move has become old news. And in a somewhat different voter incentive, select polling places will be turned into carnivals. Will either tactic work? We'll find out soon enough.

The bottom line: Putin will be re-elected. But the Kremlin faces the delicate balancing act of holding elections real enough to win popular legitimacy, but not so real as to risk an embarrassment.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 2: Barbarians at the Oval

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 2: Trump stops buying what his professional staff are telling him, and increasingly turns to radical voices telling him what he wants to hear.

President Trump plunked down in an armchair in the White House residence, still dressed from his golf game — navy fleece, black pants, white MAGA cap. It was Saturday, Nov. 7. The networks had just called the election for Joe Biden.

Fringe right plots new attacks out of sight

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Domestic extremists are using obscure and private corners of the internet to plot new attacks ahead of Inauguration Day. Their plans are also hidden in plain sight, buried in podcasts and online video platforms.

Why it matters: Because law enforcement was caught flat-footed during last week's Capitol siege, researchers and intelligence agencies are paying more attention to online threats that could turn into real-world violence.

Kids’ screen time up 50% during pandemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

When the coronavirus lockdowns started in March, kidstech firm SuperAwesome found that screen time was up 50%. Nearly a year later, that percentage hasn't budged, according to new figures from the firm.

Why it matters: For most parents, pre-pandemic expectations around screen time are no longer realistic. The concern now has shifted from the number of hours in front of screens to the quality of screen time.