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.