Staunton, December 10 – The 2020 Russian Census has already been delayed until April 2021, and many people think it should be delayed again because some Russians will be resistant to answering the door to someone they don’t know who may be carrying the coronavirus and thus putting them at risk.
Others are concerned, given the recent spate of leaks of personal data, that the Russian government won’t be able to maintain the confidentiality of responses, especially this time around because for the first Russian census ever, those surveyed will have the option of participating online.
And still others are worried about the possibility that those surveyed will falsify their declarations to make themselves look better or to avoid attention or that the government will falsify the results either outright or in how it reports the information in support of its own political goals.
All those concerns, Yekaterina Kozerenko, a sociologist at the Levada Center, says, are legitimate worries, but none of them overshadows the value of the census both as a picture of what Russian society as a whole is like on key dimensions and as a check on figures offered by one or another part of the government on the basis of smaller samplings.
She tells the Znak news agency that having a census every ten years as the law requires makes using its data easier, although if the pandemic gets worse in the spring, delaying the enumeration yet again would be reasonable in order to protect the health and even lives of the citizens (znak.com/2020-12-10/kak_podtasovyvali_dannye_perepisi_naseleniya_i_zachem_v_ney_uchastvovat).
Kozerenko adds that the problems around confidentiality of the census are made easier by the fact that names are not on census forms, although she says that the use of computer filings complicates things. At the same time, she says, the census organization recognizes those problems and likely will do its best to prevent them from arising.
And she says that some falsifications are inevitable. People routinely claim more education than they have and report higher or lower incomes depending on which position they believe serves their interests. Moreover, Moscow has a reputation for falsifying census data for its own purposes.
Most notoriously, Stalin suppressed the 1937 census because it came up with numbers he didn’t like and then had those who conducted it sent to the GULAG or shot. He didn’t like the 1939 census either; and as a result, there were no censuses at all in the USSR until 20 years later, something that made it difficult to count Russian war losses among other things.
More recently, Kozerenko says, the Soviets falsified the 1979 census so as not to reveal just how many Soviet citizens were working for the military-industrial complex and the 1989 census so as not to reveal how high infant mortality rates had become. But the more data that are out there, the harder it is even for the government to do this.
Some Russians believe that the government collects accurate information but puts out false numbers for various purposes. There may be some of that, she concedes; but she rejects the possibility that Moscow can operate very often on such “double bookkeeping.” The difficulties of doing so, including exposure, are just too great.
The biggest danger this time around, Kozerenko says, is that a large percentage of those living in the Russian Federation will simply not take part. If the number is less than 10 percent and if it is spread widely over the country, the census will still be useful as a guide for what the government should do and a check on government actions.
But if those who refuse to take part are concentrated in one or another place, even a smaller number of non-participants could seriously limit the value of the enumeration by introducing distortions far greater than any the Russian authorities are likely to, the Levada Center sociologist concludes.