Voice of the People (since July 2008)

Since the last time I covered Levada‘s opinion polls was a whopping half a year back, I reckon its time to make an update on what Russians are thinking since then. A comprehensive kind of post, like what I did in Lovely Levada (check it out, if you haven’t already!) and hopefully a good resource for Russia-watchers of all stripes. Russophobes will find some good material here too :). I’ll start from the most recent and presumably relevant ones, and work my way down to where we left off last July, trying to select polls that are non-repetitive and interesting. Please note that there is a Part II since the original post was too long to post.

2009, Feb 13: Two opinion polls on wellbeing and consumer expectations. The Crisis and Social Feelings has lots of different graphs of consumer confidence plummeting down towards the end of 2008, as everywhere else in the world. People are postponing consumption; preferences are shifting from the Euro to the $, but the ruble remains surprisingly strong; and worryingly, 41% think the economy will not start recovering for more than a year compared to 27% who think otherwise (my own bet is half a year to a year, as I wrote in previous posts).

The second poll is the Crisis and problems in consumer credit. It has an interesting chart of how people’s feelings about buying expensive things on loans changed from 2001 to 2009. Not surprisingly they collapsed recently, which is one of the main reasons that car sales, of instance, have fallen off a cliff. What I find more interesting is that the height of debt mania was during the mid-2000’s. Meanwhile, attitudes worsened during the past two years, when the worst excesses of Russian corporate binging on cheap foreign credit took place.

Dynamics of positive and negative feelings towards buying expensive stuff on debt. Debt-averse | Debt junkies.

Dynamics of positive and negative feelings towards buying expensive stuff on debt. Debt-averse | Debt junkies.

The number of Russians buying electronics, furniture, cars and real estate on credit grew rapidly in recent years, from 26% in 2003 to 38% in 2008 and was more prevalent amongst younger generations (unsurprisingly). There is confirmation that the consumer wellbeing of Russians definitely improved. From 2001 to 2008 the percentage of the population having difficulties buying enough food more than halved from 21% to 9%, while those that could be classed genuinely middle-class by Western standards (those who have enough money for necessities and reasonably priced consumer durables) increased from 7% to 18%, stats on ownership of consumer durables by household wealth and lots of data on the opinions of who with unpaid debts.

Feb 11: I came across a recent British poll on the 200th anniversary of Darwin’s birth, which indicated a whopping 51% of Britons believed in “intelligent design”. With the exception of old people (> 55 years), the younger people were the stronger was their rejection of evolution. (Although a caveat is that the evolution denialists were more concentrated around London and the West Midlands, so I suspect concentrations of Muslims would have played a role too). No wonder the Flynn effect of increasing IQ over time is stagnating since the last few decades in advanced countries.

Results from Russia were no better, sadly. Only 20% subscribe to the Darwinian theory of evolution; 13% believe that God created man, and 43% believe it was both (i.e. presumably intelligent design). 49% believe humanity was created by God and 26% consider it descended from the apes.

Feb 9: Things worsening on the labor front. From October to December the number of people or their family members being withheld salaries rose from 10% to 30% of respondents, those having salaries cut rose from 6% to 29% and experiencing layoffs rising from 7% to 30%.

Surveys from 2001 to 2009 of how many people have cell phones…

янв.01

янв.02

янв.03

янв.04

янв.05

янв.06

янв.07

янв.08

янв.09

Yes

2

5

9

19

32

45

58

71

78

No

98

95

91

81

68

55

42

29

22

…and access to a computer.

янв.01

янв.02

янв.03

янв.04

янв.05

янв.06

янв.07

янв.08

янв.09

Yes

4

6

9

10

14

17

20

28

33

No

96

94

91

90

86

83

80

72

67

About 35% of Russians now use a computer at least once a week, up from 12% in 2001. Internet penetration in January 2009 was at 24% if users are defined as those who use it at least once per week, up from just 3% in 2001.

Finally, a poll on human rights. Russians tend to value social rights like access to free education, medical pensions and old age social security (68%); right to life (58%); and right to a well-paid job for one’s specialization (51%). More traditional Western rights like property (33%), freedom of speech (28%), freedom of religion (15%) and electing representatives to the government (13%) aren’t as relatively popular. Contrary to popular belief, this is not unique to Russia and a similar pattern is prevalent throughout Eastern Europe, including the likes of Poland or Ukraine. This is because they went through times of social hardship and realize that abstract Western notions of freedom mean little when there’s no bread.

Jan 30:Graphs on historic relations towards the US, the EU, Ukraine and Georgia.

Russian approval towards the US dips sharply whenever they have an acute foreign policy conflict, as in 1999 (bombing of Serbia), 2003 (Iraq invasion) and 2008 (Georgia intervention). There is also a secular stagnation that saw the US going from being regarded in a very positive light in Putin’s early days to neutral-negative territory. The dynamics in US views of Russia have been very similar. Let’s hope that the 34% of Russians who think relations will improve under Obama are correct.

The EU has had historically higher approval ratings than the US and has always remained in net positive territory. It has declined in the past eight years, but at a slower pace than the US until it dipped very sharply during the Ossetian War.

Initially good views of Ukraine started declining after the Orange Revolution, dipping sharply in the wake of hostile rhetoric during the Ossetian War and going into negative territory for the first time in history. Relations continue deteriorating due to the gas crisis.

Georgia was never viewed positively and net approval turned negative in 2005. Not surprisingly it plummeted to -58% during the war and stayed low since.

Jan 29: mention an international survey of the morality of national foreign policies from World Public Opinion. Interesting, almost as many Ukrainians believe in the morality of Russian foreign policy as Russians themselves; Western nations give it uniformly very low marks.

Jan 27: 27% support tariffs on foreign cars and 46% oppose them. On the topic of the Gaza War, the Americans/US/Bush/NATO/The West were blamed by 31%, Islamists/Arabs by 15%, Israel/Jews by 12%, oil companies by 2% and Iran by 1%. Some 12% support the Palestinians, 10% support the Israelis and the rest are neutral or don’t care. 56% believe terrorists should be killed, while 24% support negotiations. 17% support the Israeli operation against Hamas and 47% are opposed. The vast majority think Russia should either try to foster peace between the warring parties or stay out altogether.

Jan 22: Leader approval ratings and state of the nation. More people are starting to think the country is on the wrong track, but not at a fast rate (morale is still much higher than it was for almost the entire period 1996-2006). As of January 2009, Medvedev’s approval was at 75% and Putin’s at 83%, virtually unchanged from the last nine years. Therefore talk of popular uprisings is clearly premature.

Net approval ratings of Putin and Medvedev.

Net approval ratings of Putin and Medvedev.

Jan 12: The most significant events of 2008 were the death of Patriarch Alexei II (41%), the South Ossetian War (39%), election of Medvedev (39%), the financial/economic crisis (38%), the Beijing Games (21%), reduction of conscription to twelve months (20%), Russian recognition of Abkhazian and South Ossetian independence (18%) and Russian footballing successes (15%). (I skipped a few). I think the most significant events were the economic crisis and the Ossetian War from the list, in that order.

 

2008, Dec 24: More evidence that talk of popular uprising is premature. As of December, 66% of Russians believed the likelihood of mass protests against falling living standards or for defense of rights was unlikely in their town or region; only 20% said they were ready to man the barricades. These figures are totally unchanged from previous years. Russians on the fall of the USSR and the future of the CIS. As of 2008, 60% regret the fall of the Soviet Union; 55% think it could have been avoided. These figures have remained remarkedly steady since 1992. The future of the CIS is viewed in a negative light, with only 19% expecting further integration and 25% awaiting intensifying conflict or dissolution. On the topic of what they want to develop on the post-Soviet space…

Варианты ответа

2001

2002

2003

2006

2007

2008

Greater union based on mutually voluntary decisions

32

27

24

23

23

28

Restoration of the USSR in its old form

23

21

25

18

16

13

Greater union on the EU model

15

19

17

19

23

22

Keeping the CIS in its current form

13

12

13

17

12

14

Independence of all republics

12

12

11

12

17

14

No comment

5

9

10

11

9

9

Dec 11: On unemployment, 47% think its unacceptable. Dec 8: On industrial action / strikes,

Варианты ответа

1989

2001

2004

2005

2006

2007

2008

Striking is the only way to get one’s demands fulfilled

17

13

14

15

14

15

12

Strikes are a normal way of resolving new problems

12

13

19

20

20

21

16

Strikes are an extreme measure, but sometimes necessary

44

30

29

34

30

33

29

Strikes don’t accomplish anything

5

33

29

23

23

17

30

Strikes must not be allowed in our country

14

5

4

3

3

6

5

No comment

8

6

5

5

10

8

8

Dec 5: Reading in Russia: Trends and Problems, a Levada report for the government that you can download.

Nov 27: Reacting to the election of an African-American, Russians expressed amazement (16%), satisfaction (15%), delight (15%), annoyance (2%), indignation (1%) and envy (<1%). 58% weren’t emotionally affected.

Nov 20: According to World Public Opinion on attitudes towards government responsibilities, 77% of Russians think the government should guarantee food for all which is somewhat lower than international norms (the vast majority says this in all countries). 68% of Russians believe the government is doing an inadequate job in providing food, compared with 80% in Ukraine and Argentina, 47% in the US, 56% in France and 12% in Germany. Interestingly the figure is only 37% in India, which still suffers from widespread malnutrition.

Nov 18: Interethnic tensions. Some 11% of Russians regularly sense hostility from other ethnicities, while 58% never do – this figure has remained roughly unchanged since 2002, despite the big inflows of immigrants from the Caucasus and Central Asia and the very well publicized rise in racist murders. However, 39% believe that large-scale, violent conflicts are possible in Russia, and 20% think it possible in their own region. However, these are down from 49% and 24%, respectively, in 2002.

Nov 11: Russian views of US leaders. Of the last four Presidents, 28% thought relations were best with Bill Clinton (28%), Reagan, Bush I and Bush II got around 10% each. 39% thought the Democrats were better for Russia-US relations, 11% preferred Republicans. Obama (27%) was much more popular than McCain (15%).

Oct 31: Russians are by and large indifferent to the YUKOS case.

Oct 23: Attitudes towards the financial crisis. As of October, 72% of people had no savings and 21% did, little changed from 2002. Some 35% thought that housing was the best asset class, compared with 8% for gold, 12% for cash, 25% for Sberbank and 4% for commercial banks / stocks. These figures also remained static over history. Below are detailed stats on historical currency preferences…

июл.02

июл.03

дек.03

июл.04

дек.04

июл.05

фев.06

июл.06

фев.07

июл.07

мар.08

17-20 окт.08

Ruble

29

29

46

38

39

35

40

50

50

49

41

52

$

33

27

13

17

11

23

15

8

7

5

4

4

Euro

18

25

25

28

29

25

21

24

23

30

32

25

No comment

21

19

16

17

21

18

24

18

21

16

24

19

and on social wellbeing (PS: “enough money for basics, not consumer goods” is short-hand for “enough money for food / clothes, buying stuff like TV’s, fridges is a difficulty for us”, same with other categories).

окт.98

окт.99

окт.00

окт.01

окт.02

окт.03

окт.04

окт.05

окт.06

окт.07

17-20 окт.08

Can hardly make ends meet

36

36

23

21

17

17

15

14

12

10

9

Enough for food, not clothes

46

40

46

42

42

39

36

37

28

29

27

Enough for basics not goods

15

20

26

28

35

35

40

38

47

45

49

Enough for basics, goods

3

3

4

9

6

9

9

11

13

17

15

Can afford expensive things

<1

<1

<1

<1

<1

1

<1

<1

<1

<1

1

Since Russians are pessimistic – throughout this period the number of people claiming their financial position will get worse in the coming months was consistently higher than those seeing an improvements, in contrast to reality – it is more the trend that matters above. So quote that whenever a Russophobe claims that it is only the oligarchs living in Rublevka who’ve improved their lot in Russia under Putin.

Oct 14: As if well known, the police do not have a good reputation in Russia. According to a recent poll, only 21% of respondents believe they deserve trust, while 43% think they don’t fully deserve it and 28% believe they completely don’t deserve it. Geographically, by far the most negative responses are in cities of <500,000 people exception Moscow, where 14% of people think they deserve trust and 37% think that they wholly don’t deserve trust. In Moscow, the figures are 22% and 16%, respectively; 26% and 25% in smaller towns; and 18% and 28% in rural areas. The poorest have the least amount of respect for the police; apart from them, attitudes are similar across social classes. Interestingly, people with a higher education have much higher respect for the police (37% for and 20% against) than less educated Russians.

Above is a historical graph of a police approval index. If A = people who say the police deserve trust, B = not wholly deserving, and C = totally undeserving of trust, then the index is calculated by Index = A – 0.5B – C. As with many other indexes of social trust and confidence covered in Lovely Levada, it seems a strong trend to improvement began around about mid-2007.

 

Oct 7: 46% Russians have a close friend or relative living abroad, mostly in the post-Soviet space.

Sept 24: 67% of Russians believe Russia will qualify for the football World Cup in 2010, while a 13% league of fifth-columnists believes otherwise.

Sept 22: Attitudes on South Ossetia and Abkhazia. 56% support stationing troops in South Ossetia while 27% support withdrawal. 40% believe recognizing their independence will benefit Russia, 15% think it will harm Russia and 28% believe it won’t make a difference one way or the other. 46% support their immediate or eventual inclusion into the Russian Federation, while 25% counsel caution and 12% are against.

Sept 16: 15% of Russians believe they can speak another language fluently, including 26% of 18-24 year olds, 30% of people with higher educations and 35% of Muscovites. Older, less educated and more rural people have generally lower stats. The most cosmopolitan professions are the Armed Forced / Ministry of Internal Affairs / public prosecution service (46%), admin / management (33%), indepedent entrepreneur (33%) and students (30%); the most insular are ordinary workers (8%) and pensioners (7%). According to older polls, the most popular languages are English (44%), other Slavic (19%) and German (15%). Amongst young people who know one or more foreign languages, the most popular are English (80%), German (16%) and French (4%).

9/11: Attitudes towards the Beslan terrorist acts. 33% believe there authorities are covering up the truth and 50% think they’re only communicating part of the truth. 12% considered the operation to rescue the hostages successful, 51% satisfactory and 25% unsatisfactory. Majorities believe that in hostage situations the priority should be to save the hostages rather than destroy the terrorists and 55% believe the authorities did all they could to save the Beslan hostages.

They cite a report from World Public Opinion on international opinions about who masterminded 9/11. 57% of Russians think it was Islamic terrorists, 15% the American government, 2% Israel and 4% other Arab governments. These numbers are very similar to other European countries. Large numbers of Arab respondents attributed it to Israel.

Sept 9: There was overwhelming support for Russia’s recognition of South Ossetian and Abkhazian independence, with 80% being for and 10% against. However, 64% would support allowing the return of Georgian refugees to those regions and protecting them from pressure on the part of Ossetins and Abkhazins. 34% support leaving regular Russian soldiers in South Ossetia while 43% favor a peace-keeping contingent, while 11% urge for withdrawal and substitution for UN and EU peacekeepers. 66% support using budgetary funds to reconstruct destroyed Ossetian infrastructure and 27% are against. Only 1% expressed agreement and 4% understanding with the negative positions of Western powers on Russia’s intervention, while 20% experienced bewilderment, 22% anxiety and 39% indignation. A big majority think that current tensions with the West will subside soon enough (correctly, as it turned out).

This is a good one – do Russians want freedom? Since Russophobes love to carp on about this, I’ll reproduce the results in detail. The first table deals with the question of whether Russians think they have enough freedom. As you can see, 56% believe they have enough freedom; more people actually believe they have too much freedom than too little.

1990 Май

1997 Май

2007 Июль

2008 Июль

Too little freedom

38

20

12

18

Enough freedom

30

32

57

56

Too much freedom

16

34

24

20

No comment

16

14

7

6

Russophobes like to paint Russian men in particular as drunken beasts who enslave women and are particularly authoritarian, when in fact it is women who are (very slightly) more “authoritarian”. Nor are there great differences by age, education, wealth or place of residence. (Note: those that are poorly educated, poor and live in rural places and lost most from the end of the Soviet system tend to vote more on “too much freedom”, i.e. the freedom to steal national wealth, etc, as they perceive the situation).

Total

Sex

Age

Education

M

F

18-24

25-39

40-54

55+

Higher

Middle Specialist

Middle

Lower Middle

Too little freedom

18

20

16

20

18

18

16

18

22

17

14

Enough freedom

56

56

55

59

62

56

47

59

52

62

53

Too much freedom

20

19

21

15

12

20

30

15

21

18

23

No comment

7

5

8

5

7

7

7

8

6

3

10

Anyway, whenever you hear or read a Russian categorically stating that freedoms are dissipating or that poverty is soaring (well, admittedly the latter might be true for the last two or three months), note that she speaks only for herself and the c.10% of the population that are fifth-columnists, not the silent majority of Russians.

Social attitudes based on place of residence is a multi-issue poll organized according to where the respondents live. In September when this poll was held the ruble-$ exchange rate was 25:1, so 8k rubles was 320$, 16k rubles was 640$ and 22k rubles was 880$. (Note that to get a realistic comparison with the US you should double these figures to take relative puchasing power issues into account).

Family Monthly Income

Russia

Moscow

Cities >500k

Cities 100-500k

Small Towns

Villages

Low (< 8k rubles)

26

5

16

24

28

39

Lower-middle (8k-16k r)

29

7

27

29

38

29

Higher-middle (16k-22k r)

14

12

22

19

11

9

High (22k+ r)

18

59

24

17

11

9

No comment

13

18

12

12

12

15

Lots of other interesting results there too.

Sept 3: A poll on access to education. 36% of Russians would like to complete one university degree and 24% prefer a specialized school or college. Others would opt for just the elementary or basic school (5%), completed high school (10%), technical school (9%), two universities (7%) and graduate studies (2%). Younger people, men and Muscovites report having affordable access to more educational opportunities; overall accessibility slightly increased from 2003. Interestingly, the number of people who wanted themselves or their children or grandchildren to get educated in a foreign university dropped to 39%, from 52% in 1999; those who do not want this increased from 24% to 36%. Younger people, men and those living in bigger cities are more favorable to the idea of getting a foreign education.

Sept 1: One of those inane greatest people polls. All the usual suspects – Pushkin, Peter the Great, Stalin, Lenin, Putin, Gagarin, Lomonosov, etc, dominate.

Aug 26: Attitudes towards the Prague Spring forty years on.

Aug 25: This poll registers improvements in perceptions of accessibility to education, healthcare and good jobs. All show slight improvements in the past six years, but remain deeply unsatisfactory. Can you and your family members get access to quality healthcare?

Варианты ответа

2002г.

2003г.

2004г.

2005г.

2006г.

2007г

2008г

Yes / probably yes

25

26

25

23

28

24

30

No / probably not

73

72

72

76

70

72

66

No comment

2

2

3

1

2

4

4

Can you, your children, grandchildren, etc, get a good education?

Варианты ответа 2002г. 2003г. 2004г. 2005г. 2006г. 2007г 2008г
Yes / probably yes

37

32

37

32

42

39

42

No / probably not

59

64

60

63

53

56

53

No comment

4

4

3

5

5

5

5

Can inhabitants of your town or region get a good job according to their specialization?

Варианты ответа 2002г. 2003г. 2004г. 2005г. 2006г. 2007г 2008г
Yes / probably yes

19

21

16

14

18

20

24

No / probably not

74

75

78

82

77

75

69

No comment

7

4

6

4

5

5

7

Aug 7: Detailed survey of Russian food consumption habits by food category. Also includes a long historical record of what share of their salaries Russians spent on food since 1991. We can see that during most of the 1990’s, a majority spent almost all their money on food; since then, this has fallen to just 14%. So again, a further reason for ignoring Russophobes who insist life did not get better for just about everyone under Putin.

Варианты ответа

1991

1992

1994

1999

2001

2002

2004

2006

2007

2008

Less than half

6

3

3

5

4

6

11

17

19

18

About half

20

12

13

15

14

24

32

35

38

39

About two thirds

40

19

20

21

38

28

28

27

25

23

Almost everything

30

63

59

55

42

37

27

17

14

14

No comment

5

2

4

4

2

5

3

4

4

6

Russians have mixed views on whether their mass media are free; 12% think its completely free, 34% think its mostly free, 35% think its mostly controlled, and 10% believe its totally controlled by the government.

Aug 4: A very comprehensive survey (and results of some past surveys) on Russian smoking patterns.

Total

Sex

Age

Education

Men Women 18-24 года 25-39 года 40-54 года 55 лет и старше higher middle /spect. lower middle

smoking now

37

61

18

45

49

43

17

28

40

39

don’t smoke now, but smoked in the past

14

19

11

12

14

12

19

19

14

13

never smoked

47

19

71

43

36

44

64

53

45

47

no comment

1

1

1

1

2

1

1

1

1

1

A very high percentage of people continue to smoke (37%), including 61% amongst men. This is up from 35% in 2004 and the same as in 2007. Most disturbingly there does not appear to be any clear trend of improvement with younger ages. Amongst professions the highest incidence of smokers can be found amongst independent entrepreneurs (63%), the unemployed (60%) and workers and farmers (56%); the lowest are admin/managers (27%), Armed Forces / Internal Affairs / Prosecutor’s Service (30%), students (30%) and pensioners; the highest rate of former smokers is in the Armed Forces / Internal Affairs / Prosecutor’s Service (29%). Interestingly, the highest numbers of smokers are amongst the well-off financially and Muscovites.

July 31: Russians believe the country needs a few strong opposing parties. The number of people wanting one strong party dropped from 43% in 1999 to 32% in 2008, while those favoring two or three big parties rose from 35% to 45%. Some 46% believe there is an opposition to the regime, while 35% disagree (by opposition they mean parties like the Communists, Just Russia, Yabloko, etc, not Kasparov’s pack of clowns). 62% believe the country needs an opposition, while 21% disagree.

July 28: Mixed views of businesspeople, with 45% viewing their activities as useful for Russia and 38% as harmful.

July 18: What do Russians believe in?. Faith in all kinds of mystical things like signs and dreams and the evil eye increased since the end of the Soviet Union, turning Russia from an atheistic to a pagan-Christian nation (like much of western Europe). Or maybe they just became more comfortable with admitting it.

  • AK

    Note: for comparison with Ukraine

    As of today, every third Ukrainian lacks means for food. These are the results of an all-Ukrainian telephone poll carried out by the Gorshenin Institute during February 24-28.

    According to the results of the poll, some 35.2% of respondents described their situation as “hardly making both ends meet, sometimes there are not enough means for food”. Some 36.5% of Ukrainians have enough means for food but face difficulties with buying clothes and shoes. Some 22.9% can afford buying everything but valuables.

    Some 3.2% of Ukrainians said they have no financial difficulties except for buying very expensive things. And only 1.1% of those polled said they have no financial difficulties at all.

    The poll was carried out in Kyiv during February 24-28. On the whole 1000 respondents aged over 18 years old, were polled. The error margin does not exceed 3.4%.

    Admittedly they are already in a Depression and possibly on the brink of bankruptcy.

    As I predicted in my analysis of the Russian economic crisis, it is unlikely the country will hold together in the next few years.

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