Tag Archives: Levada

Poll: Russians Want Return of Soviet Rule

A new poll from the Levada Centre brings a result that will no doubt shock some in the West: 49% of Russians would like a return to Soviet government, of the type Russia had until 1991, whereas only 16% would like Western-style democracy (column on the far right below – support for Soviet system shown in red, for the current system in Russia in orange, and for Western-style democracy in blue. Black is ‘other’, and grey is ‘difficult to reply’).

As you can see from the column on the left, Levada has been doing this poll since 1996 and this is the highest ever level of support registered for Soviet-style government. Meanwhile, support for Western-style democracy is well down from its peak in the late 90s and early 00s. Support for the current system has never been desperately high apart from a blip in February 2008 (hopes of change under Medvedev???) and another in March 2015 (post-Crimean bump). But the current system is still more popular than in the 1990s, whereas the opposite is true of Western democracy.

In an article for RT (see here), I discuss how age differences factor into this, as seen in this chart:

As you can see, younger folk are much less pro-Soviet and much more pro-Western. Does that mean that 30 years from now the Russian population will have moved in that direction? Not necessarily. As I say in the article, the 55+ age group contains all the folk who were in their 20s and 30s in the perestroika era and the early 1990s and who were probably the most liberal, most pro-Western generation Russia has ever produced, before or since. These are the types who turned out en masse in Moscow to support Lithuanian independence, who voted en bloc for Boris Yeltsin, and who even gave liberal parties some 30% of the vote in the 1993 Duma elections (unthinkable today). So they weren’t all Sovoks from the start, hating liberal democracy and the West. Something happened along the way. Who knows what will happen to the current 18-24 somethings.

The poll contains a couple of other interesting charts. First there’s this one, which shows whether people would prefer Russia to be a ‘great power’ or to be a country with a good standard of living. As I say in the article, it’s a dumb question, presenting the two as polar opposites, when in fact they are mutually dependent (a richer population = a richer, more powerful state). The fact that Levada presents the two as opposed tells us a lot about its own biases. Still, here it is. Make of it what you will (preference for great power status is in red; preference for high standard of living is in blue – Russians prefer the latter, but let’s face it, who doesn’t?).

Finally, there’s this chart, which shows responses to the question ‘What economic system seems the most correct to you?’ Red is support for an economy based on ‘planning and redistribution’, blue is support for an economy based on ‘private property and market relations’. As you can see, most Russians are economic lefties, favoring planning and redistribution. Support for the free market is at historic lows, and way down from the 48% recorded in 1992.

I think that one needs to treat all this with a degree of caution. I mention in my article that it’s unlikely that many Russians are seriously considering a return to Soviet rule until some guy from Levada phones them up and asks them if they’re in favour. I suspect that the pro-Soviet option is as much a thumbs down to the alternatives as it is a thumbs up to communism. Likewise, I doubt that 62% of Russians would really like returning to the planned economy, although they obviously do believe that free market liberalism has its down sides and that wealth in their country is unequally distributed (as it is).

So, overall, what does it mean? Not that Russians are yearning to return to communism, I think. The Communist Party is most unlikely to win this week’s Duma elections. Rather the poll shows that Russians aren’t too happy with the existing system in their country, but – and this is the crucial element – they don’t see Western models as being any better. Of course, that may change – having swung one way, people may swing back again. But for now, Russians seem intent on going their own way.

Lifestyle and Identity

The Levada Centre has just issued the results of a new survey. According to this poll, a majority of Russians (53%) do not feel that their value system and self-identity align at all with those of the West. In addition, 45% regard the ‘Western lifestyle’ (which was not defined) negatively, and only 30% regard it positively. The results are shown here.

TO WHAT DEGREE DO YOU CURRENTLY FEEL THAT YOUR VALUE SYSTEM AND SELF-IDENTITY ALIGN WITH THOSE OF WESTERN CULTURE?

  Feb.93 Oct.08 Sept. 14 Sept. 15
I feel this way at all times 1 3 2 2
This is fairly important to me 5 7 12 10
This is not very important to me 16 32 37 28
I don’t feel this at all 50 54 43 53
It is difficult to say 28 5 6 7

OVERALL, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE “WESTERN LIFESTYLE”: POSITIVELY OR NEGATIVE

  Oct.08 Sept. 14 Sept.

15

Positively 46 34 30
Negatively 30 42 45
It is difficult to say 25 25 25

The survey also found that 5% of respondents would definitely like to move to the West to work, and 18% would probably do so if they could, while 30% probably wouldn’t and 36% definitely wouldn’t (the rest didn’t know). These figures are almost unchanged from 2008. The primary reasons given for wanting to move to the West were economic (better living conditions being the most commonly cited) rather than political. Younger people (18-29), those with university education, and those who spoke foreign languages and travelled regularly abroad were generally more positively inclined to the West and more likely to want to live there.

Looking at all this, I suspect that the answers to the ‘lifestyle’ question are rather less significant than those to the more general ‘self-identity’ question, in large part because, as the charts above show, they have changed much more over time and so may be more reflective of current political differences rather than deeply-held beliefs. They may therefore be more likely to change again in the future.

Russian views about what they imagine the ‘Western lifestyle’ to be have in effect flipped 180 degrees over the past seven years: 46% positive and 30% negative in 2008, but 30% positive and 45% negative in 2015. A dislike of Western foreign policy might well be a factor in this change, as might a feeling that the West has become decadent and excessively liberal, while Russia has retained a more conservative outlook. Nevertheless, I am not convinced that this apparent divergence of values is a lasting phenomenon. The current level of international tension does not have to be permanent, and the values differences are, I think, overblown. Most Russians seem very happy to indulge in Western-style consumerism if given the chance, and Russian popular culture is not obviously any less ‘decadent’ than that of the West. I strongly suspect that if Russian-Western relations were to improve, answers to the lifestyle question would switch rapidly back to where they were seven years ago.

The same can’t be said of Russians’ failure to self-identify as Western. The 53% whose self-identity is ‘not at all’ Western is an almost identical figure to the 50% who felt that way in 1993 and the 54% who did so in 2008. It seems that there is a long-standing sense among a majority of Russians that they are distinct from the West. This sense is not just a product of current international tensions, and it is likely to persist.

One of the paradoxes of globalization is that in some cases it may actually accentuate perceptions of cultural difference. Lifestyle and identity have to be separated. What the Levada poll suggests to me is that the fact that Russians are adopting certain Western ways of living doesn’t necessarily mean that they will grow to feel more Western.