The paper introduces the public sector as a major source of infrastructural state capacity that helps autocrats survive. Education or social services organizations are embedded in everyday life and trusted by the people, which makes them a unique tool in autocrats’ hands. These organizations significantly extend the ability of the state apparatus to implement political decisions on the ground. Using quantitative analysis of seventy-nine Russian regions and qualitative evidence from the media, I demonstrate that Vladimir Putin’s regime used schoolteachers, who were frequently members of local electoral commissions, to implement wide-scale electoral fraud during the 2012 presidential elections in Russia. The school system served as an organizational base for this maneuver, which allowed Putin’s regime to withstand the challenge of decreased popular support. The paper proposes a distinction between the redistributive and infrastructural roles of the public sector.
Natalia Forrat is a Pre-doctoral Fellow at the Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law. She will receive her PhD in Sociology from Northwestern University in 2017. She studies authoritarianism, state-society relations, state capacity, civil society, and trust with a focus on contemporary Russia. Her work has been published in Post-Soviet Affairs and supported by the Fulbright Program and the Open Society Institute. Before her doctoral studies, she received a master's degree from the University of Michigan and a bachelor's degree from Tomsk State University (Russia). She taught at TSU for a few years, while also working at a Russian NGO.