Sunday, March 3, 2013

Window on Eurasia: Polls in Russia Influence Public Opinion More than Reflect It, Sociologist Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, March 3 – Polls in Russia often influence public opinion more than they reflect it, according to a Moscow sociologist, because they are conducted after a decision is taken rather than before, because they use terms that dispose people to answer one way rather than another, and because as is true in many places Russians often don’t have an opinion on many questions.

            Indeed, “Moskovskiye novosti” journalist Anna Baydakova says in writing up her interview with Igor Zadorin, the head of the TSIRKON Research Group, “in responding to the questions of sociologists, many Russian conduct themselves lie members of Soviet party meetings – they approve everything” (

            Zadorin says that “it is a good thing that our citizens are asked what they think about the decisions of the authorities,” but “it would be better if their opinion was sought in the course of broad public discussions before and not after the decisions are taken.”  Unfortunately, in the event of the latter, many Russians would not have an opinion about many issues.

            The reason so many Russians approve whatever the government does, the sociologist continues, is that if they hear about a decision and they are supporters of Putin, they will say to themselves: “’This is a law from the authorities and from the president, and I support the president. Well, certainly, this is a good law.’” That leads to overstatement of support.

            Another problem, Zadorin says, is that the way in which questions are asked can dramatically affect responses, and while he suggests that the larger polling agencies generally don’t skew the data by this device, many smaller ones do – and thus provide the answers that those hiring them want to hear.

            Further problems with “polls,” he suggests, include the reality in Russia that sometimes the results of polls are announced even though the polls in fact were never conducted and the decision of some polling firms not to poll in particular regions of the country. For example, the Public Opinion Foundation doesn’t do surveys in the North Caucasus, but VTsIOM does.

            But poll results have an interesting impact, especially when they involve elections, Sidorin says.  “About 30 percent” of potential voters do not read papers or watch television news. Consequently, published poll results have little impact on them.  Another third are so committed to one candidate or another that they ignore the published figures.

             There is a third group, however, the 30 percent who follow poll results. Such people are most often found in “the electorate of the liberal parties: they read news, they go online, and they follow information.”  They are thus most likely to be affected but like the committed are unlikely to change their votes.

            If poll results don’t affect the voters, Sidorin says, they are important for another reason: they “influence” those who sponsor them, including politicians and government officials who view ratings in the polls as if they were like stock market indexes, telling them which way the wind is blowing.

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