Friday, February 15, 2019

Are Russians Now Understating Their Support for Putin? ‘Nezavisimaya gazeta’ Asks

Paul Goble

            Staunton, February 14 – Up to now, most analysts have assumed that polls conducted in the Russian Federation overstate the amount of support that Russians have for Vladimir Putin, with those surveyed either afraid to give a different answer or convinced that declaring that they back the Kremlin leader is the only “correct” response.

            But now that Putin’s poll numbers are falling, the editors of Nezavisimaya gazeta say, Russians may be telling pollsters what they think the latter want to hear now, even if they continue to support Putin, much as some Americans did with regard to Donald Trump in the run-up to the last American presidential election (

            In the US at that time, as subsequent investigations and the vote itself shows, many who supported Trump did not report that to pollsters, possibly on the assumption that those conducting the surveys didn’t want to hear it. Now, one must ask, the editors of the Moscow paper say, whether “a Trump effect” is occurring in Russia. 

                Indeed, some poll results suggest that this may be the case. The Levada Center asked Russians whether they believe other Russians report honestly to pollsters their views on Putin.  Twenty-eight percent said that “the majority or practically all hide their true thoughts and attitudes.” The saying this has gone up 10 percent since last year.

            Most commentators nonetheless continue to assume that “citizens think about the authorities and about Putin worse than they are prepared to acknowledge,” the editors say. But that may not be the case. Instead, they may now be saying what they think others want them to say given Putin’s much-trumped decline in popularity.

            The American experience is instructive in this regard. In 1982, polls and exit interviews showed that Tom Bradley, a black American, would win. “But his white competitor did. In interviews with others, the voters wanted to look progressive,” but when it came time to vote, they acted like “real conservatives.”

            “Approximately the same thing was observed during the last presidential elections in the US,” Nezavisimaya gazeta says. Americans appeared reluctant to say that they were going to vote for Trump even though that is was they ultimately did.

            Nothing like this has yet been observed or documented in Russia, the paper continues; but that doesn’t mean that similar things couldn’t happen there.  It is entirely possible now that “Russians in what they say want to appear more liberal than they are in fact,” exactly the same pattern as in the US.

            The editors note that Vladislav Surkov in his recent article spoke about “the deep people,” a term of art which is a synonym to “the silent majority,” a phenomenon “familiar to historians and anthropologists.”  And to the extent that such a thing now exists in Russia, it could lead to poll results that will mislead, but mislead in just the opposite way that many assume.


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