Staunton, December 12 – For months, Moscow commentators have suggested that Russians are caught between what the Kremlin shows them on television and what they see in their increasingly empty refrigerators and predicted that eventually the refrigerator would defeat the TV and that this would have immediate political consequences.
The findings of two polls published today suggest that these prognosticators were half right: ever more Russians view the refrigerator – their personal well-being – as more important than television’s ideological messages about Russia as a great power but few think they can or should take political action, concluding they must try to save themselves in other ways.
The first poll, by the Levada Center, found that 33 percent of Russians now say their personal well-being is more important than the status of the state, an increase of six percent from a year ago. And fewer, 16 percent as opposed to 24 percent, think Russia has “’a completely special system and path of development” (rbc.ru/politics/12/12/2016/584b0fc29a794748ba1c40b7).
The survey also found that 64 percent of Russians now say that a high standard of living is an important marker of a great power, up from 41 percent last year. The current figure, which is the same as it was before Putin came to power in 1999, is a very different conclusion than the one Russian television has promoted.
Moreover, the Levada Center found that Russians “ever less often associate with the term ‘great power’ a ‘heroic past’ and ‘the enormous size of the country.’” In May 2016, 24 and 21 percent of the sample did; now, only ten percent do in both cases.
But those who predicted that such a shift in values would lead to political action against the Putin regime seem certain to be disappointed, if the results of a second poll also released today are correct. This VTsIOM survey found that only ten percent of Russians think that taking part in politics is important (ruskline.ru/news_rl/2016/12/12/neizvestnaya_konstituciya/).
Instead, most Russians appear focused on their immediate personal needs by acting for themselves or together with those closest to them rather than by engaging in collective political action. That of course is a victory for the messages Putin’s television has been sending even if the refrigerator is now defeating some of his others.