Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Three Instructive Russian Poll Results

Paul Goble

            Staunton, December 18 – Russian polls are not always the most accurate indicator of what Russians really think. On some issues, they know better than to make declarations at odds with the Kremlin; and on others, the polls are used by the Putin regime as a means of increasing its control by suggesting that any dissenter is in a tiny and mistaken minority.

            But there are polls taken in Russia both by independent and by government-linked agencies that are significant and that deserve to be taken seriously sometimes precisely because they show the Kremlin can’t control everything or alternatively because they may be a indication that the Kremlin is changing direction -- or at least suggesting that it may be.

            The results of three such polls were published today.  First, the Kremlin-linked VTsIOM agency reported that its surveys had found that the level of unemployment in Russia is now twice as high as the one official government agencies have been offering (znak.com/2017-12-18/vciom_vyyasnil_uroven_bezraboticy_v_rossii_v_dva_raza_vyshe_oficialnogo).

            On the one hand, that could mean that the regime simply can’t hide the impact of the economic crisis from people; but on the other, it could open the way for an even more populist campaign by Vladimir Putin.

            Second, the Nakanune news agency on the basis of a poll its journalists conducted on their own found that now that the Russian team won’t be allowed to march under the Russian flag at the upcoming South Korean Olympiad, 70 percent of Russians say they don’t plan to watch that competition on television (nakanune.ru/news/2017/12/18/22492798/).

            On the one hand, this could mean nothing more than that Russians like most people are less interested in competitions where they don’t have a dog in the fight as it were; but on the other, it could be a way of lowering tensions about the doping scandal or even putting more pressure on the IOC for television rights if nothing else.

            And third, the independent Levada Center reported that the share of Russians who have a negative attitude toward the US had increased to 60 percent but that the fraction of the population who want to be friends with the United States was even higher – 75 percent (znak.com/2017-12-18/60_rossiyan_negativno_otnosyatsya_k_ssha_no_75_hotyat_s_nimi_druzhit).

                On the one hand, the rise in anti-American attitudes could reflect the Kremlin’s increasingly frequent criticism of the US as the date for the imposition of sanctions approaches; but on the other, the fact that so many Russians say they want better ties with the US could set the stage for a new Kremlin “peace offensive,” however artificial or short term that might be.

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