Staunton, March 3 – Polls in Russia
often influence public opinion more than they reflect it, according to a Moscow
sociologist, because they are conducted after a decision is taken rather than
before, because they use terms that dispose people to answer one way rather
than another, and because as is true in many places Russians often don’t have
an opinion on many questions.
“Moskovskiye novosti” journalist Anna Baydakova says in writing up her
interview with Igor Zadorin, the head of the TSIRKON Research Group, “in
responding to the questions of sociologists, many Russian conduct themselves
lie members of Soviet party meetings – they approve everything” (mn.ru/politics/20130225/338497890.html).
says that “it is a good thing that our citizens are asked what they think about
the decisions of the authorities,” but “it would be better if their opinion was
sought in the course of broad public discussions before and not after the
decisions are taken.” Unfortunately, in
the event of the latter, many Russians would not have an opinion about many
reason so many Russians approve whatever the government does, the sociologist
continues, is that if they hear about a decision and they are supporters of
Putin, they will say to themselves: “’This is a law from the authorities and
from the president, and I support the president. Well, certainly, this is a
good law.’” That leads to overstatement of support.
problem, Zadorin says, is that the way in which questions are asked can dramatically
affect responses, and while he suggests that the larger polling agencies
generally don’t skew the data by this device, many smaller ones do – and thus
provide the answers that those hiring them want to hear.
problems with “polls,” he suggests, include the reality in Russia that sometimes
the results of polls are announced even though the polls in fact were never
conducted and the decision of some polling firms not to poll in particular regions
of the country. For example, the Public Opinion Foundation doesn’t do surveys
in the North Caucasus, but VTsIOM does.
poll results have an interesting impact, especially when they involve
elections, Sidorin says. “About 30
percent” of potential voters do not read papers or watch television news.
Consequently, published poll results have little impact on them. Another third are so committed to one
candidate or another that they ignore the published figures.
a third group, however, the 30 percent who follow poll results. Such people are
most often found in “the electorate of the liberal parties: they read news,
they go online, and they follow information.”
They are thus most likely to be affected but like the committed are
unlikely to change their votes.
If poll results don’t affect the
voters, Sidorin says, they are important for another reason: they “influence”
those who sponsor them, including politicians and government officials who view
ratings in the polls as if they were like stock market indexes, telling them which
way the wind is blowing.
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