Thursday, December 16, 2021

Moscow’s Effort to Improve Census Participation Backfiring

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 29 – Surveys show that 20 percent of Russians adults plan to refuse to respond to census takers, a pattern that reflects the distrust Russians have regarding any government action and one that means this latest enumeration will be incomplete and likely seriously distorted (

            In an effort to boost participation, Rosstat is allowing Russians to fill out census forms online, promising that this method will be just as secure as the other. But there already have been leaks, and this has only increased suspicions and reluctance to answer questions (

So as not to have to publicly acknowledge such resistance, the Russian statistical agency has presented the online option as something the pandemic requires; but Russians see it as more than that and as an attempt to get them to respond to questions they don’t want to answer. They don’t trust the Gosuslugi site where the census responses are to go.

Contributing to these attitudes, Moscow experts say, is the way in which online voting was manipulated during the referendum on the Constitutional amendments and the voting during the September election. Russians, they say, have even less reason to be confident that the census will be honest or not misused (

The biggest fear of Russians is that either the powers that be or criminal elements will use their declarations to make trouble for them. Better not to answer or at least not answer honestly. But while a not unreasonable fear, it pales in comparison to what non-participation or falsification can mean for the future.

Some local official and ethnic activists are falsifying results to boost the number of residents or members of a particular nationality, and if large numbers of people don’t take part, that becomes easier to hide, demographers say. Then, no one will know the real situation in the country, and the government will be making policy on the basis for false data.

Moscow officials are making such dangers worse by how they are handling online declarations. They aren’t even allowing people to use many of the most important non-Russian languages to fill in the forms and that will both alienate many and lead to false reporting (

During the last Russian census in 2010, fraudsters used the census to extract money from pensioners, and there is evidence suggesting that the numbers of such criminals has increased rather than fallen, all official promises notwithstanding. That is another reason Russians aren’t responding (, and

            “If a large number of people refuse to take part [in the census], the information will be distorted,” Yekaterina Kozerenko, a specialist on surveys at the Levada Center says. “And then we all will suffer when [Moscow[ takes decisions without knowing the real picture” (


            Russians will see that and their trust in the government will decline further, a vicious circle that their country shows no signs of escaping.


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