The Crimea referendum “15% for” myth

May 6, 2014 — 13 Comments

The idea that only 15% of Crimeans voted to join Russia is speeding around the internet after an article was published in Forbes magazine written by Professor Paul Roderick Gregory.

According to Professor Gregory

“The website of the “President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights” posted a blog that was quickly taken down as if it were toxic radioactive waste.”

“According to the Council’s report about the March referendum to annex Crimea, the turnout was a maximum 30%. And of these, only half voted for annexation – meaning only 15 percent of Crimean citizens voted for annexation.

“The fate of Crimea, therefore, was decided by the 15 percent of Crimeans, who voted in favor of unification with Russia (under the watchful eye of Kalashnikov-toting soldiers).”

Unfortunately for Professor Gregory, the blog post wasn’t pulled down and is available (in Russian) here.

The blog post is based on the work and proposals of Svetlana Gannushkina, Evgeny Bobrovy and Olga Tseytlina who visited Crimea on a study visit in April.

Svetlana Gannushkina is fiercely against the annexation of Crimea, chiefly on legal grounds, but the main point is that Professor Gregory, in his Forbes article, has completely misconstrued the nature of the blog post and falsely extrapolated from the (unscientific and imprecise) figures given within it.

According to the blog post (based on “survey participants and citizens”) The vast majority of inhabitants of Sevastopol voted in a referendum to join Russia (50-80% turnout), Crimea according to various sources for joining Russia voted 50-60% voter turnout with a total of 30-50% ;

So, this is no “accidental post” of the “real Crimean election results” but an estimation by the members of this working group based on “various sources.”

Now, even if we accept that the authors of the blog are correct in the wide range of percentages they give (a big “if”), we can see, thanks to the original blog not having been pulled down, that Professor Gregory has totally distorted the figures.

To try to make any genuine calculation as to the percentage who voted for reunion, based on what is in the blog, is a slightly pointless task but we would have to make some assumptions. If we assume “vast majority” of Sevastopol voters means a minimum of 80% and a maximum of 99% and the electorate proportions of Sevastopol to Crimea are 15:85, then the blog figures would translate into a minimum of 18.65% and a maximum of 36.96% of the electorate voting for reunion. More importantly, in terms of actual voters (the way elections usually work), the figures would be a minimum of 54.39%; and a maximum of 65.41%.

Professor Gregory has, dishonestly, arrived at his 15% figure by taking the minimum figure for Crimea for both turnout and for voters for union, calling them the maximum, and then ignoring Sevastopol. He has also pretended the report is based on the “real results,” when it seems to be little more than the imprecise estimates of a small working group who were apparently against the idea of the referendum in the first place.

It appears that Professor Gregory is intent on deceiving his readers about the vote in Crimea and its legitimacy, probably as part of the widespread campaign to deny the people of Crimea their legitimate rights to self-determination and to demonize Russia in the process.

Professor Gregory and Forbes should give a full account of this episode. In addition, the institutions to which Professor Gregory belongs, including the Hoover Institution at Stanford, the University of Houston where he is Cullen Professor of Economics and the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin where he is a research professor should have a close look at what this deception says about his intellectual integrity.

Update 12/05/2014
1) Professor Gregory has rewritten his original post, retracting the 15% and “secret poll” claims.
2) In his rewritten post Professor Gregory is still trying to use the straw poll in the blog to come up with some figures about turnout and actual votes cast. Svetlana Gannushkina has kindly confirmed, in her words: “Link to our report in respect of 15% support for the annexation of Crimea is impermissible speculation.”
2) A new poll by Pew Research confirms the accuracy of the official poll results.

13 responses to The Crimea referendum “15% for” myth


    The Russians claimed 85% turnout and 90+% yes votes. So if you’re correct both sides lied — but one side, the Russians, use their lie to justify a land grab. This guy just made a post on the internet — yet his lie offends you and the Russian one doesn’t?

    If I were Russian i would be ashamed.


      Thank you for your comment. Three Russians here have come up with different figures to the official Crimean figures, based on a straw poll – but still indicating a majority in favour of reunification. FWIW The international observers thought the poll was free and fair. Western journalists on the scene reported almost everyone was in favour of rejoining Russia. By any sober assessment the majority of voters supported reintegration in Russia and subsequent events in East Ukraine suggest this was a wise choice.

        noting_hypocrisy May 7, 2014 at 12:27

        funny your sober assessment doesn’t consider the possibility that unrest in eastern ukraine is only beneficial to putin and most probably have been organized by putin


        “a wise choice”

        Essentially what you’re saying is: “Join Russia, or else.”


    “subsequent events in East Ukraine suggest this was a wise choice” – way to reverse cause and consequence. The right way of putting this is: the fraudulent vote and land grab in Crimea were a catalyst for further destabilization in East Ukraine.

    You are obviously incredibly biased: “international observers thought the poll was free and fair”. Except that the so-called international observers were exclusively members of extreme and fringe groups aligned with the Kremlin, not the usual type of international observers deemed impartial enough to certify such things.

    FWIW – the poll happened after less than 3 weeks of “campaign”, where only one side was allowed to campaign, called by a parliament who substituted the previous local parliament that the was deposed by mysterious armed gangs, while Ukrainian-language and independent channels were taken off the air. Yeah, free and fair indeed.


    Good! Let professor Gregory reply in kind to constant Russian propaganda full of blatant lies. We should also have a state sponsored propaganda machine and have the president reward journalists who do the best job supporting democratic ideas. Don’t you think so?


    Yes, Gregory was relying on the Ukrainian TSN version of this story, which was highly tendentious and misleading.

    Gannushkina et. al. make it very clear that they are giving merely estimates based on a straw poll from *20 meetings*. This few dozen people are merely giving a wide range of estimates that are less than the official numbers. TSN — and Gregory — reached for the lowest figures and failed to admit that this was a poll of a mere 20+ people.

    He also misrepresented the “censorship” of the story, as the memo is still accessible, but removed from the news archive; another story of Gannushkina’s is still in the news archive. So yes, there’s been some manipulation there, but basically, that report is still viewable and linked via social media.

    This is the third story of Gregory’s I’ve seen like this which has been deliberately distorted to jack up its “gotcha” anti-disinformation value — but in the process only itself spreads misinformation.

    Here’s my translation of excerpts of Gannushkina’s report and an explanation of Gregory’s errors:


    My evidence is only anecdotal. However, with several friends living in both Sevastopol and Yalta, I have been told that almost nobody went to vote – they didn’t want to make a fragile situation worse – so I would tend to side with the professor’s take on events. The consensus seems to be that, despite underlying issues, people were happy to stay Ukrainian but really mistrust an interim government that was brought to power by violence. The question that will eventually have to be answered is how a peaceful protest, a la “Orange revolution”, turned to violence so quickly. I suspect either US or Russian involvement, certainly something from outside.


    Wow! the Hoover Institution at Stanford,
    the University of Houston where he is Cullen Professor of Economics,
    the German Institute for Economic Research in Berlin where he is a research professor.
    All these three universities have to either exclude such “professor” from their ranks for inability to use the calculator and for the lack of knowledge of basic mathematics and probability theory. Or institutions should declare and acknowledge that such a catastrophically low level of knowledge of this Professor is just enough to get the degree of Professor of “Economy” and “Research” in these universities.


    It is obvious from looking at the other stories on the right of this page that due to the conspicuous absence of any stories criticising Russia’s Human Rights abuses, this is a “soft” propagada site which is part of Moscows disinformation war machine. Word of advice, to the webmaster, at least include the token Russian human rghts abuse (and there are many) now and again to throw people off the scent. Todays browsing public is more astute than it used to be, old style Soviet lie information souces just dont work anymore. We can see right through them. I have friends with family in Crimea. A common practice there now is to change the “perepyska” on Crimean passports now. Over there you have your place of birth marked on your passport and that dictates where you have a vote. Many Ukrainians born in Crimea have had their Crimean assports reissued saying they were born in some town in the former Soviet Union near Japan with protests at the “admin errors” falling on deaf ears.. I’ll leave it to you to work out why. Democracy, Russian style, thats why.These people now don’t have a vote.


      Where do you get your speculation and innuendo? What is the difference of the place of birth? The right to vote does not depend on place of birth in Russia. But only from the place of today’s living. False reports of Ukrainian bloggers about violent change of the information in passports was not confirmed and all have been exposed by attentive users. Why don’t you wrote – what country are you from that you so blatantly accuse Russia of violating human rights – I would like to know your own opinion about your country – as it is the “guardian of human rights”? It is very easy and mean to criticize someone secretly, hiding behind the curtain. “A common practice now there is”, ” where did you get information about a “common practice”? I do not accuse you of lying, but just ask you to specify the open source of information?

Trackbacks and Pingbacks:

  1. The Crimea 15% Story not Quite Accurate | Roman in Ukraine - May 7, 2014

    […] […]

  2. Pew Poll: Crimeans happy with “annexation” by Russia, believe referendum was free and fair « Human rights investigations - May 12, 2014

    […] is internationally recognised for the accuracy of its polling. Even anti-Russian propagandist Professor Paul Roderick Gregory (who seemingly still retains his academic and writing positions despite having his credibility torn […]

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