Staunton, Mar. 15 – Russians increasingly feel a sense of responsibility for what their government does because they believe that they can influence its decisions on many questions directly affecting their lives, Denis Volkov says. But these feelings do not extend to political or security issues where they don’t think they can do so and risk a lot if they try.
The head of the Levada Center polling agency says that in 2009, 81 percent of Russians said that they could not influence what goes on in the country at all. By December of last year, he points out, that figure had fallen to 45 percent (levada.ru/2023/03/15/kommentarij-k-voprosam-o-sposobnosti-povliyat-na-situatsiyu/).
Over the same period, the percentage of Russians who said that they could influence the situation in the country significantly or completely rose from two percent to approximately 20 percent today – an increase of nearly ten times and one that suggests Russians’ sense of efficacy is increasing despite the intensification of repression in Putin’s Russia.
Volkov cautions that this sense of efficacy exists only within some groups – the younger, better educated and more well-off – and only on certain issues. Russians say in focus groups that they can influence the decisions of the government about social and everyday problems but not others.
Participating in the resolution of political or security questions, Volkov continues, is viewed by “the majority” of Russians to this day as something “extraordinarily difficult, practically impossible, and accompanied by high risks.” On those issues, Russians today feel just as powerless as they did in the past.
Volkov’s report raises some interesting questions that he does not address in this article: does a growing sense of efficacy in one area of life lead to demands for greater participation in the political process on others, or does it instead have the effect of keeping people from making such demands because they have already gained something elsewhere?
Putin is clearly betting on the latter, but the experience of other countries suggests that he is wrong and that a growing sense among Russians that they can influence government decisions about their lives will lead to precisely the kind of demands for participation in decision making on other issues as well.