2018 Russian Elections



The goal of the research was exploratory in nature and the use of topic modeling is a suitably open-ended means to that end. The results yielded a mixture of word lists that compile the most commonly spoken words from the least to the greatest with an individual total for each word. The lists are divided into several categories to include the economy, diplomacy, election interference, Syria, and quality of life.


It is essential to note the limited source material and its impact on the results and analysis. Due to the limitations of time and manpower, a total of 5 Putin texts and 3 Zhirinovskii texts were chosen. A small sample such as this should not be taken as broadly representative of Russian political discourse or even of the two candidates themselves. Politicians adapt to the contemporary political climate and address topics that suit the preferences of their audiences. Their topics and tactics may very well change significantly in six months. The explanatory of a topic model is extremely limited given the limited sample size. In this case, we used it as a proof of concept. That is, it has yielded some limited positive results, so if we choose to work futher on the project as the political situation changes, it may prove useful for a bigger sample size. As a result of these limitations, we decided to forgo comparative analysis and focus instead on the overall characteristics of the candidates in the context of the 2018 election.


The percentages that indicate relevancy of particular topics to either candidate are very close and only on the topic of Syria is there a notable contrast with Zhirinivskii above Putin by about 8 perent. The greatest attention was paid to quality of life and Syria and both topics were far ahead of the rest. That the candidates would discuss Syria more than most other topics is not surprising given the prominence of warfare in the country and foreign military involvement. Russia's military involvement and its rivalry with the United States are a significant topic in politics as is the case in the US. Quality of life was not expected to be among the most addressed. Although this could be a result of the limited sample size, this may indicate a general concern among voters about a declining living standard.

Putin's Rhetorical Style

Party platform

The Ediniaja Rossija party platform sums up Putin's goals and interests best. Mataintaining national unity and independence, and ensuring stability are first and foremost in Putin's rhetoric. Even today, Putin's rhetoric reminds the Russian people of the economic chaos during the 1990's, and implicitly reminds them of his success in stabilizing and bringing prestige back to the country. In doing so, he reminds us that economic conditions are still very difficult, but in these conditions he has been able to guarantee some growth (<1% GDP growth per year). In foreign policy, Putin ignores the actions he's taken to worsen relations with the West, rather saying that he's open to cooperation (for example, in Syria), but the West refuses.

Journalistic characterization

Rhetorically, Putin has been described as blending elements of populism and scripted propaganda to defend his rule. Rather than engage with conspiracy theories himself, he alludes to them. One such common conspiracy theory in the Russian political sphere is that the United States wanted to break up Russia after the Soviet Union collapsed. [source] In speeches, he often alludes to Russia's glory days, bringing glory upon himself by lauding the annexation of Crimea as a holy crusade for the place where Vladimir I, the first prince of Kievan Rus', converted to Christianity. Often, he uses anecdotes or evidence that is inherently unverifiable to bolster his arguments. In cases where he might feel trapped by an interviewer, he will draw a false equivalence between the West and Russia. [source]

Our analysis

Putin makes a lot of promises, but this is largely an artifact of the sample. Putin's speech before at United Russia's party conference makes up 86% of the promises Putin makes. Putin also uses a significant bit of evidence to back up his claims, however, it is important to note that a large percentage of these pieces of so-called evidence cannot be proven true or false (marked "unknown"). This corresponds to the media's perspective that Putin loves to reference conspiracy theories. For example, Putin uses a combination of vagueness, irony, and unconfirmable evidence to allude to the conspiracy theory that the Democratic Party is making up the Russian interference story to hide Hillary Clinton's weaknesses.

Putin's use of evidence (true/unknown/false)

putin has 16 true, 15 unknown, and 4 false examples of evidence

Putin almost entirely ignores the opposition, only mentioning them once vaguely, and in a positive light. Putin lavishes praise on the military and his own party while criticizing the United States. He calls the United States hypocrites, saying that they interfere in elections all around the globe, while simultaneously denying that Russia had anything to do with Trump's victory in 2016.

Putin Rhetorical Devices, count

40 36 Promise 35 EvidenceUse of evidence to prove a point 31 Actor DescriptionThe way we describe actors or members of a particular society either in a negative, neutral, or positive way. 26 Rhetorical question 12 AssumptionMaking an explicit assumption about something 9 AnecdoteUsing a story to make a point 9 National Self-GlorificationUsing patriotism to represent oneself in a positive light 7 ImplicationDeducing or inferring implicit information 4 IronySaying something and meaning something else 2 AuthorityReference to authority 2 HyperboleExaggerating, or "enhancing" meaning 1 VaguenessCreating uncertainty and ambiguity 1 Sarcasm 1 Polarization 1 Presupposition

Informally looking at the topic model's performance, it worked pretty well at characterizing this sample of Putin's speeches. Especially since Putin's United Russia speech was almost entirely just him word dropping words like "страхование", "пенсия", "школы", and "образование," it's no surprise that Putin would receive a high weight for quality of life. In addition, the speech before the Entrepreneur's Council was largely split between the quality-of-life and economy topics, which corresponds with our reading. Unsurprisingly, interference in US elections appeared as a topic because of two interviews with Western media in the sample. If it wasn't for an entire speech dedicated to the topic of military operations in Syria, I would expect Putin to appear less militaristic in his rhetoric, especially since he seems to use more cloaked, less aggressive language in his other speeches. In fact, he seems to emphasize diplomacy, implying that the West is responsible for Russia's isolation. However, the diplomacy angle only makes up a small (perhaps understated) portion of his two interviews, so it is understandable that the model reacts this way.

Putin Topics, pct relevance

35% quality of life military diplomatic economy interference in elections

Zhirinovskii's Rhetorical Style

Party Platform

As stated in the party program and reinforced by much of Zhirinovskii's rhetoric both in our corpus, and in quotations throughout his career, the LDPR is interested in security and social stability above all else. The party, if they are successful in elections, promises to rapidly expand the military-industrial base in order to achieve full employment and quick economic growth.

Overall characterization

Zhirinovskii is also widely considered to be a populist, Russian nationalist, and strong supporter of the Orthodox Church. At times, he has proposed radical measures like building a border wall on the Caucasus to keep out Muslims. [source] He has also made brash comments threatening to carpet bomb Poland and the Baltic countries. [source] Much like other populist politicians, he has an authoritarian streak, making proposals to re-institute autocracy and adopt Imperial Russian symbols.

Our analysis

The topic modeling results of Zhirinovskii's rhetoric strongly suggests a preference for evidence as a means to support his claims. A point of note is Zhirinovskii's use of polarization as a tactic to rally voter support. This is not surprising given his party's stance on Russian nationalism though it is important to note that Zhirinovskii uses this tactic most frequently with references to foreign entities. Western countries and leaders are the most common targets. Using foreign entities as adversaries is a useful tactic to rally the greatest number of voters to one's own cause without alienating potential voters.

The military and quality-of-life dominated the discourse of both candidates and that the military would be a prominent topic is not surprising given the contentious relationship between Russian and the west at this time. However, the quality-of-life topic was unanticipated and could reflect the public's concern over their job security and a possible decline of their living standard. The LDPR has a reputation for their promotion of a strong military and Zhirinovskii has made threats of military action in neighbooring countries. Both candidates, despite there divergent platforms, recognized which topics to emphasize during their campaigns and their coincidence is indicative of a wide concern across party lines. Normally, parties present the issues that most concern their own interests and appeal to a particular segment of the population though that appears to be waning recently. The economy and political issues appear to be taking a backseat to the military confrontation with the west and a possibly declining living standard. This could be indicative of a general trend toward political unity in Russia while, conversely, the western nations appear to be fracturing politically.

Zhirinovskii Rhetorical Devices, count

90 85 EvidenceUse of evidence to prove a point 50 Promise 33 ImplicationDeducing or inferring implicit information 28 AssumptionMaking an explicit assumption about something 18 AnecdoteUsing a story to make a point 18 Actor DescriptionThe way we describe actors or members of a particular society either in a negative, neutral, or positive way. 14 Polarization 11 Consensus BuildingConstructing a sense of agreement and solidarity between the speaker and others. 7 HyperboleExaggerating, or "enhancing" meaning 2 CategorizationAssigning people to different groups 2 VaguenessCreating uncertainty and ambiguity 1 National Self-GlorificationUsing patriotism to represent oneself in a positive light 1 AuthorityReference to authority

Zhirinovskii Topics, pct relevance

40% military quality of life economy diplomatic interference in elections


Tsygankov, A. (2015) Vladimir Putin's last stand: the sources of Russia's Ukraine policy, Post-Soviet Affairs (ed. 31, vol. 4, pp.279-303), DOI: 10.1080/1060586X.2015.1005903

Rashidi, N. & Souzandehfar, M. (2010) A Critical Discourse Analysis of the Debates between Republicans and Democrats over the Continuation of War in Iraq, The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education (vol. 3, pp. 55-82, 207-208).

van Dijk, T.A. (2006) Politics, Ideology, and Discourse, In Keith Brown (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Language & Linguistics (ed. 2, pp. 728-740). Oxford: Elsevier.