Staunton, April 7 – Many thoughtful Russians have suffered two shocks in the last two months: Vladimir Putin’s launch of an expanded invasion of Ukraine and polls suggesting that the overwhelming majority of Russian support that action. But Sergey Yerofeyev says they should not rush to accept what he calls the findings the Kremlin is trumpeting.
The US-based Russian scholar argues that these reported results should not lead to despair or a sense of impotence among Putin’s opponents because these polls distort the state of public consciousness, often consist of obviously bad data, and are routinely subject to false interpretation (theins.ru/politika/249996).
And Yerofeyev says that far more accurate information can be culled from what he calls “partisan sociology,” a movement of people independent of the Putin regime who are conducting far more accurate surveys of the opinions of Russians about Putin’s war and many other questions as well.
The regime’s sociologists get the answers their bosses want by framing the questions they ask in such a way that Russians know what answers they are supposed to give and either give them or don’t participate, he continues. If one asks Russians other questions, such as about real losses from the war, the answers one gets are very different.
Yerofeyev cites the analysis of recent VTsIOM polls by sociologist Mikhail Sokolov who says that “if you are under 30, live in a large Russian city, have a higher education and don’t watch television, then the probability that you don’t support the actions of the Russian army now exceeds 80 percent” (facebook.com/mmsokolov/posts/2016414775197668).
That finding highlights both the way in which television propaganda shapes the opinion of others and also the fact that foreign policy is rarely a central issue for Russians, at least compared to domestic issues, the US-based sociologist says, adding that Putin’s ratings always go up when he does something abroad that distracts attention from domestic problems.
But despite the attention that poll results from those connected with the powers that be get the most attention, he continues, there are other polls, small in number as yet and not entirely representative, that provide strong evidence that what the Kremlin wants people to believe Russians think is incorrect.
On March 7, for example, a poll conducted by the Navalny organization found that ever more Russians viewed what Putin was doing in Ukraine as an aggressive war rather than “the limited military operation” he and his minions have been talking about (navalny.com/p/6615/). And that is far from the only such survey.
Others include the Athena Project, Aleksey Mikhailo’s operation, and the Voronezh-based Kvalitas group. Their findings consistently show not only that fewer Russians support the war than Moscow claims but that support among the war is lowest among the poorest Russians rather than among the better off.
To the extent that is the case, this pattern provides evidence that economists who say that the further deterioration of the economic situation will lead to a social explosion are correct and that the war may accelerate that trend. If such “partisan sociology” develops, it will provide a useful corrective to the image many now have.
Up to now, Yerofeyev says, “Russian public consciousness remains largely in denial about the realities of the war, something that also contributes to the illusion that it has mass support.” But the partisan sociologists increasingly have the opportunity to determine who is a real supporter, who is passive and who is actually opposed.
“Such partisan sociology should help loosen the Kremlin’s grip on the civic sphere” in Russia and allow “the majority to feel that they are not alone in the face of the repressive state machine but that many think and feel the same way they do.” Even the Putin regime hasn’t been able to block this sense entirely, and independent surveys can reduce his hold still further.
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