In four years, Russians have surpassed Estonians in proportional voter participation numbers. During the municipal elections of 2005, Estonians led in activity. But at the elections in the fall of 2009, Russians with naturalized citizenship were more active in visiting the polls than Estonians.
A survey conducted by Tartu University showed that 66% of Estonians asked had voted in 2005. The same survey indicated that participation of Russians, Belorussians and Ukrainians in Estonia ranged from 50 to 62%.
By 2009 voter activity had risen in all ethnic groups surveyed, but naturalized citizens, especially Russians, showed the highest growth. Estonian participation was at 74%, still lower than those of Slavic origin. Also in 2009, ethnic Russians whose Estonian citizenship derives from their birthright and Russian citizens had equal participation rates. Although showing relatively high electoral activity, those without any citizenship were the least likely to vote.
(In Estonia, as opposed to countries like Canada, non-citizens have always had the right to vote in municipal elections.)
In the 2009 municipal elections 74% of ethnic Estonians, 83% of naturalized Estonian citizens and 75% of Russian citizens were voters. Those of Slavic background with citizenship through birthright were represented by 73% and those without any citizenship were at 63%. One notes that Estonians with citizenship through birthright and and Russian citizens show practically the same level of voting activity.
Political scientist Rein Toomla explained the rise in voter activity by the naturalized citizen as a wish to somehow justify the acquired citizenship. The 21% rise in those with Russian citizenship is due to the peculiar nature of municipal politics, according to Toomla. Municipal governance is seen as something one can influence as opposed to the central authority which is distant and change takes place only through cumbersome procedures such as legislation. In addition, municipal spending is perceived as being under the control of the voter.
Why are those without any citizenship the most passive in voting? They are thought to be the most disinterested and considered to show the least interest in the activity of others.
Toomla views the rise in voter activity as an indication that people of Russian origin keep themselves well informed as to what occurs in Estonian politics. This in turn should suggest that the quality of information accessed by those of Russian heritage must be of a high standard. The non-Estonian electorate isn’t to be dismissed off-hand. Toomla noted that the perceptions of the political process of Russians and Estonians, at least during municipal elections, are becoming similar. He was uncertain whether this was due to the active promotion of ‘integration’.
The political scientist did not comment on the urgings of politicians in Moscow who publicly advocate the increase in political activism by Russians in Estonia. In fact during past elections, its was suggested that Russian voters shouldn’t waste their votes on peripheral Russian political parties in Estonia, that it would be politically astute to make their electoral power meaningful by supporting Edgar Savisaar’s Centre Party. Observers have often noted that the Centre Party’s longevity in holding the thrown in Tallinn could be the result of a deliberately motivated Russian vote. Future research could target this phenomenon.
Russians more politically active than Estonians