Yeltsin leads in presidential election poll

But he's only a hair ahead


April 22, 1996
Web posted at: 4:55 p.m. EDT (2055 GMT)

MOSCOW (CNN) -- As Russia's June elections approach, President Boris Yeltsin holds a slim lead over other candidates, according to a CNN/Moscow Times poll.

It's a dramatic turnabout for a leader who once was only half as popular as his Communist opponent and ranked fourth in some opinion surveys. But the current survey shows no candidate comes close to being a strong favorite.


According to the April poll results, 20.7 percent of the Russian voters surveyed prefer Yeltsin, while Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov is nipping at his heels with 19.8 percent. A month ago, Zyuganov was ahead by 5 percentage points.

Three other candidates -- economist Grigory Yavlinsky, nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and retired Gen. Alexander Lebed -- trail with single-digit poll results. The number of undecided voters was 28.2 percent in March, shrinking to 22.2 percent in April.

In April, one out of every nine Yeltsin supporters said they wanted to see his Communist opponent defeated, an indication to some political analysts that Yeltsin's commitment to economic reform is working.

"Many believe Yeltsin is the lesser evil," says Andrei Kortunov of the Russian Scientific Fund. "Yeltsin means reforms. He means some kind of democracy."


Nevertheless, the poll showed one in eight Zyuganov supporters picked the Communist as an anti-Yeltsin vote. And nearly half of those voting for Zyuganov did so because of his promises of a greater social safety net.

The poll found Zyuganov's strength among older, poorer, rural voters while Yeltsin did better with younger, urban, higher-income Russians.

Chechen stance may be working

One thing that may have helped turn the tide for Yeltsin is his peace plan for Chechnya. Although fighting continues in the breakaway region, he denies it -- a tactic that may be working.

About 5 percent of the voters polled, most of them young, said the peace plan would be an important factor in their choice. Another reason for Yeltsin's growth in popularity may be that the Communists are running a lackluster campaign.

"They didn't manage to coin any catchy slogans," Kortunov said.

And as the incumbent, Yeltsin has the power to deliver on promises. Last month, he doubled many pensions. While critics call that buying votes, the president's advisers say he's just doing his job.

Yeltsin's apparent momentum in the polls, however, comes with a caution. Recent elections in Russia have shown that about 40 percent of the voters don't make their choice until they mark their ballot. So with such a close race, anything could happen.


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