Finally, how did the polls fare in the Russian presidential election? First, let us revisit the graphs that I presented on Friday, based on all the polls conducted since the end of December. On average, the polls estimated Putin's support one week before the election -- there was a ban on publication of the polls during the last week -- slightly under 80%. The results published by the electoral Commission according to the newspaper Le Monde show that Putin received around 76.6% of the vote. Therefore, the polls estimates are within the margin of error. The support of the two main opponents, Grudinin from the Communist Party, and Zhirinovski, an ultranationalist candidate, was generally estimated at around 6%. Zhirinovski's support was well estimated: he received 5.6% of the vote. However, Grudinin finished second, with 11.8% of the vote. He managed to get twice the support he was estimated to have.
I do not have the sample size for these surveys but if they had 1000 respondents, the margin of error for Putin would have been 2.5% and for Grudinin or Zhirinovski, around 1.5%. Therefore, we may conclude that the only support that was not estimated accurately is Grudinin's. It reminds of the difficulties pollster had to estimate the support for the Communist Party -- and extreme left in general -- in some European countries during the Cold War, a difficulty that has since been replaced by a similar difficulty to estimate the extreme-right. Only one poll had put Grudinin at more than 10%, the one conducted by CIPKR at the end of February.
The support for all the other candidates, including Xenia Sobchak, was generally estimated to be under 2%. Sobchak had two higher estimates, one at 2.3% by WCIOM, and one at 4.3% by CIPKR. She got 1.5%. Navalny's support was estimated at 1% at the end of December, just before he was banned from running. Of course, we do not know how he would have fared if he had run, but from the beginning, in this election, there were two "main opponents" to Putin according to the polls, i.e., Grudinin and Zhirinovski.
What about pollsters?
The following graph compares the estimates from the different pollsters. It shows that, while FOM estimated Putin's support at around 75%, WCIOM tended to slightly overestimate the support, putting it at more than 80%.
However, in the exit polls, WCIOM had a slightly lower estimate of Putin's support, at 73.9% compared to 76.3% for FOM (see below the estimate from WCIOM). Both estimates were within the margin of error or close. And the estimates for Grudinin and Zhirinovski are quite accurate. It is rather impressive given the difficulty to conduct exit polls with a population scattered over such a large territory. In Canada, with a similar scattered population over a large territory, pollsters do not conduct exit polls.
Finally, the turnout was 67.5%. It is quite close to the estimates that I saw from WCIOM, i.e., 70% of respondents reporting that they would go vote for sure. As elsewhere, there is a tendency for respondents to over report their intention to vote or their vote -- or else, people who do not vote tend not to answer polls.
Finally, the pollsters fared rather well in their estimation of the vote, except for Grudinin, whom they clearly underestimated. However, since the polls could not be published during the last week, one could speculate that there was some movement during that week. Such an eventuality is unlikely however since there was no huge movement during the whole campaign.The exit polls were very good. However the pollsters will have to try to understand how come they underestimated voting intention for the Grudinin.