Russian elections have been severely compromised by allegations of fraud, which makes public opinion polls an important source of information about popular support for Vladimir Putin and his policies. Putin’s high ratings as well as the wide use of polls by his administration suggest that his rule is essentially democratic. This paper challenges this view by discussing the specific conception of democratic representation behind polling practices. Far from being a perfect mode of representation, opinion polls are capable of manufacturing the political reality they represent. The paper demonstrates how Russian authorities use polls to replace referenda and to legitimize the results of elections and thereby exposes the representational machine that turns polls into an efficient tool for governance, maintaining the hegemony and promoting de-politicisation. The distinction between partial and total representation, drawn from Ernesto Laclau’s work, serves to illuminate the cases when polls and official election returns actually diverge and shows how the legitimacy of a regime is secured by the politics of representation that leaves a significant part of the Russian population unrepresented.

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