Friday, January 22, 2016

One Russian in Four Afraid to Tell Pollsters the Truth – and One in Two Say Most Russians Don’t

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 22 –Roughly a quarter of all Russians -- 26 percent -- are afraid to express their personal opinions to sociologists about current Russian events; and slightly under half -- 49 percent -- say that most Russians are unwilling to do so because “they fear negative consequences for themselves,” according to a new Levada Center survey.

            While such findings might appear fall under the logical category of “all Cretans are liars, said one Cretan to another,” they will add fuel to the debate as to how confident anyone can be about poll results from Russia, with some dismissing the findings as inherently flawed and others arguing that they provide at least some guidance.

            According to an article in today’s “Kommersant,” the Levada Center pollsters fall in the latter category, telling the Moscow newspaper’s journalists that such reluctance to tell the truth to poll takers probably doesn’t affect the results as far as Putin’s standing is concerned by more than five percent one way or the other (

            Just over half -- 56 percent – of those who said Russians are unwilling to tell the truth said that was the case because people “fear negative consequences for themselves.” Another 20 percent suggested that they did so because the truth was unwelcome or unpleasant for them, and nine percent suggested that respondents “fear disapproval by the pollster.”

            Aleksey Grazhdankin, the deputy director of the Levada Center, says “Putin is supported by the silent majority which take part in discussions on social networks or among colleagues less actively than do opponents of the authorities.”  At the same time, he continues, “people with opposition views really more often than others are afraid to say what they think.”

            Commenting on these findings, Moscow political analyst Konstantin Kalachyev says that the problem of “socially approved answers” is nothing new. It has been around for some time and “is called the spiral of silence. People follow the majority and fear setting themselves apart and answering with ready-made positive mantras.”

            He suggests that sociologists can get more reliable results from focus groups or in-depth interviews. And he suggests that another problem, perhaps even larger, is that the answers people give reflect the way in which the questions of the poll takers are formed.

            Kalachyev gives the following examples: “One and the same individual may respond to the question ‘How has Putin dealt with the problem of the ruble’s fall?’ with the word ‘poorly’ and say ‘yes’ to the question ‘Do you approve his activity as president?’ Or he will answer positively at one and the same time to questions like ‘Are you for friendship of the peoples?’ and “Do you agree that Russia should be for the Russians?’”

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