Staunton, June 9 – A major problem with polls in the Russian Federation now is that Russians don’t want to be represented either because they don’t trust those asking the questions or fear the way any answers they give may be used, according to Grigory Yudin, a sociologist at the Moscow Higher School of Economics.
Often this is discussed in terms of the representativeness of the samples, but in Russia, he and other sociologists suggest that it involves more than just difficulties in reaching people and reflects the fact that many people simply won’t tell pollsters the truth but rather what they think is the desired answer (novayagazeta.ru/articles/2017/06/09/72750-kak-nas-predstavit).
That can happen in other countries as well, Yudin says, and he points to the US presidential elections last year. At that time, “a large quantity of people who later voted for Trump preferred not to report about this during the conduct of a poll.” But such problems further undermine public trust in polls as in other public institutions.
In Russia in particular, “sociological polls are not viewed as an independent institution; in the eyes of the population, they are one of the instruments in the hands of the authorities. ‘Therefore,’” Yudin says, “’if some Moscow company conducts a poll, the thought immediately arises in the minds of the respondents: ‘Putin has ordered this survey.’”
Another Moscow sociologist, Dmitry Rogozin, agrees. He says that “with us, polls are usied not in order to discover the opinion of the population about their concerns and affairs but in order to put them in the situation of a choice, having presented these people with absolutely idiotic issues.”
A major reason that even the defenders of Russian polls acknowledge is that problems arise because there are only three major polling agencies and only one of these is independent of the state. As a result, the problems that many Russians fear about polls aren’t being reduced but in some respects may be growing worse.
One sign of that, Novaya gazeta reports today, involves the harm that was inflicted on polling by the ways in which the Kremlin sought to use polls to structure public response to what it was doing in Crimea and the Donbass and to give the impression that the polls served as “an instrument of ‘direct democracy.’”
But that was duplicitous, as Yudin notes. “Democracy presupposes not simply the summing up of preferences but debates in the course of which people change their point of view. This is extremely far from the idea of summing up individual opinions.” In his view, “for Russia, such a tendency will only strengthen.”
Rogozin agrees, arguing “the further a country is from a democratic system of administration, the less one can rely on polls of public opinion.” And he adds that most people polled are giving responses about questions they may not have thought about much to people whom they do not know and who may be using a kind of language at odds with their own.
Those things too make Russian polls more problematic than many assume.