Russian American Vote Could Sway Tight US Presidential Election

Mit Romney file photo
File Photo of Vladimir Putin Leaning Towards Barack Hussein Obama With Flags Behind Them

file photo

WASHINGTON, November 5 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) – If the 2012 US presidential election is close enough in the right states, the winner could be determined in part by a group of voters barely acknowledged on the national political scene: Russian Americans, who number more than three million in the US and overwhelmingly vote Republican.

“States where the vote can make a difference are Florida, Ohio and potentially Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Igor Branovan, a New York City-area physician and president of the American Forum of Russian Jewry, an umbrella organization that encompasses several dozen Russian American groups and tracks voting trends.

“In Florida and Pennsylvania you can expect large numbers of Russian American voters, I’m talking hundreds of thousands, where the outcome could be swayed by thousands,” Branovan said. “So, if the race is particularly close, yes, it could make a real difference.”

Though firm statistics are hard to come by, Branovan said exit polls and surveys indicate Russian Americans turn out to vote in large numbers ­ he estimated 80 percent of those who are eligible to vote make it to the polls to cast their ballots, much higher than the general population of eligible American voters.

According to anecdotal data and a survey of Russian American voter preferences conducted in July and August by the Research Institute for New Americans, these voters favor Republican Mitt Romney over President Barack Obama by roughly a four-to-one margin.

This year, the presidential race is tight enough that the Russian American vote in Florida and Pennsylvania ­ both swing states ­ carries the potential to impact the overall results. In Ohio, the numbers are smaller but could still make a difference if the race there is tight enough.

The 2012 election, in other words, could mark the first time that a segment of the popular vote specifically identifiable as coming from citizens identifying themselves as Russian Americans plays a significant role on the US electoral scene.

For Russian Americans, many of whom are Jewish and driven by harsh memories of life under Soviet rule, the challenge in playing a more significant role in US politics is one of demographics.

The largest concentrations of Russian Americans are in New York, New Jersey and California ­ traditional strongholds of the Democratic Party.
That may explain why this one percent of the US population is all but invisible in national politics, while smaller ethnic and national minorities are more clearly represented, including Lithuanians (0.2 percent), Greeks (0.4 percent), and Cubans (0.6 percent).

“There is not a single national political figure among the many Russian immigrants who have made such important contributions to America,” said Vladimir Kara-Murza, a former candidate for the Russian parliament in 2003 and now a senior policy advisor at the Institute of Modern Russia (IMR), a non-profit, New York-based think tank designed to promote the democratic values of the Russian Federation.

He’s not convinced Russian Americans have the strength to impact the 2012 presidential election, but said they have made strong inroads at the local and state levels that he hopes will provide a base of strength for future elections.

That progress has been slower than he would like, said Kara-Murza, in part because many Russian Americans choose to try to blend in with the mainstream population rather than encouraging their children to identify strongly with the motherland by passing on cultural traditions and views.
Greg Lauren agrees. He is the managing editor of MyForumDaily.com, an aggregator of web content directed at Russian American Jews roughly 18 to 35 years of age.

Lauren was seven years old in 1987 when his parents fled Ukraine where they faced anti-Semitism in every sphere of society, he said, and came to the US “with nothing but the clothes on their backs.”

Like his parents, many middle-aged and older Russian Americans, he said, remember the harsh realities of the Iron Curtain and are alarmed when they hear President Obama talk about bridging the gap between rich and poor.

“They can tell the stories of what they experienced living under that system, and… what Obama is espousing and promising and what he says is just kind of a rewind of the fledgling stages of the Soviet regime in 1917 where they promised to help the poor and had all these utopian ideas,” he said.

A lot of younger Russian Americans, though, consider such fears to be the paranoid ramblings of older, sometimes senile people, and tend to focus more on issues like gay marriage and the economy, Lauren said.

But there is a massive grassroots effort under way to change that, and in many ways the current Russian regime is helping.

“It’s not necessary for younger people to remember what happened in the former Soviet Union. They can look to what is happening in Russia now,” said Kara- Murza.

Calls of congratulations from Obama and the US State Department to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who was reelected in May, he said, were “a farce.”

“The current regime in Russia is in no way democratic. Elections are not free and not fair, there are not opposition views on the main TV channels, there’s not a fair judiciary, just in recent days and weeks we’ve seen a crackdown on anti-Putin protesters in May, and in the past couple of weeks Leonid Razvozzhayev was kidnapped from Ukraine and tortured into confession to imaginary crimes,” he said.

“This is appalling to a great number of Russians.”

“Putin is probably rooting for Obama to win,” said Lauren, “because that represents the weakening of America on the world stage.”

Many Russian Americans hope in this election their voice could help change that perceived course.

“We would like to see a strong and vibrant Russia, but we’d like our own administration to have some backbone, and that’s something we feel is lacking in the current administration,” said Branovan.

His efforts to attract attention from the Romney campaign have been less than successful, he admitted. But a strong turnout in the election on Tuesday may help.

“It’s going to take time, and perhaps if we have an impact, they will listen more in the future,” he said.