Interviews in Volgograd suggest that the Communists are popular primarily among older voters, including pensioners and factory workers. Nationally, more than half of their supporters are over the age of 50.

These are the people who have suffered the most from Yeltsin's economic reforms. They're also the most likely to march to the polling stations on election day, while younger voters might be lured away to their country dachas if the weather is warm and sunny."Zyuganov is our last hope," said Lilia Zhelezkina, a 56-year-old pensioner. "I believe that he can drag us out of this terrible situation."

Five years ago, she voted for Yeltsin. But then she lost her life savings because of the collapse of the ruble during Yeltsin's early reforms. Now she can't even afford an annual vacation.

"I cannot believe that we are such a wealthy country and yet we are living so badly," she said. "People have to work night and day to survive. In the past, we felt like human beings. Now I feel like an old beggar woman."

The election is dividing the generations, even causing splits within families.

Gennady Sherbakov, a 60-year-old worker in a military factory, often argues about the election with his daughter-in-law. She'll vote for Yeltsin because she's afraid that the Communists would shut down her business. Her father-in-law, who suffers constant delays in his wages and pension, will vote for Zyuganov.

"I think Yeltsin has simply robbed us," Sherbakov says. "There are no jobs anymore. I can't understand his words about stability. What kind of stability is it when we go to the factory and sit there for three hours and go home because there is no work?"

(Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service.)