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I've read that up to 70% of Russian citizens support an ongoing invasion to some extent. But these numbers were coming from government-affiliated organizations (VCIOM etc.); I think one can't really trust such polling during the conflict. Thus my question.

The two obstacles that I see for such a poll are:

  • there are new laws (and imprisonments) for public statements of anti-war sentiment, so people might be afraid to respond to pollsters on the streets
  • most big IT companies in Russia are under the control of government-affiliated figures (Rambler, Mail.ru, VK, Yandex) so we probably can't trust the online polling that they perform and it might be hard to perform an independent poll on their online platforms

So is there some proxy data that we can use? Or maybe there are some established approaches to arrange the poll so that it allows people to make indirect responses thus being less frightened? Or there's no way to get a real assessment and we have to rely on official government figures?

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    "Or there's no way to get a real assessment and we have to rely on official government figures?" Why is the second part of that sentence the logical alternative to the first part? I think that there is no way to get a real assessment and you should not rely at all on official government figure. The truth is, you cannot know everything. Dec 23, 2022 at 19:10
  • Two warnings that do not merit its own answer: 1) Even before dead bodies started to mount there was declared very high support that war just very slim number of volunteers. 2) There is huge generation split, with highest support from TV fed retires and that existed even before draft started being used to replenish losses.
    – Shadow1024
    Dec 24, 2022 at 6:30
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    Even if we could get accurate poll results, wouldn't the responses be tainted by the government propaganda that the pollees base their opinions on?
    – Barmar
    Dec 26, 2022 at 15:40

8 Answers 8

23
+250

The following isn't an answer telling us what Russian public opinion wrt to the "special military operation" is. It is listing some approaches that have been tried and info that has come out. As noted, there is a lot of "can poll responders really be trusted to speak their mind?" concerning supposedly high support for the "special military operation". Lots of people are asking themselves this question *, the actual answer seems hard to know.


One possibility, but it is very open to manipulation, is to look at leaks of polls supposedly commissioned by the Russian government itself, for internal-only use. Presumably, if only to inform their decision making, the Kremlin ought to minimize the poll's bias.

Meduza.io published an article about one such poll, supposedly conducted by Russia's Federal Protective Service (FSO), for internal governmental consumption only, allegedly saw support for peace negotiations go from 32% in September to 55% in November ( Meduza.io @ mediabiasfactcheck.com : left bias/high factual reporting ) .

That would coincide with a string of recent un-hideable losses and the start of the limited mobilization, so it is not totally implausible.

The flip side is that it will be extremely hard to confirm that this was indeed a real poll and that the results were really those mentioned. As opposed to a manipulation by Meduza.io which has a large pack of dogs in this particular fight.

In the same vein, in the past, there had been a report of the actual referendum result in the 2014 Crimea annexation and it was wildly at odds with the official numbers.

the official Crimean election results, as reported widely in the Western press, showed a 97 percent vote in favor of annexation with a turnout of 83 percent.

the website of the President of Russia’s Council on Civil Society and Human Rights (shortened to President’s Human Rights Council) posted a report that was quickly taken down as if it were toxic radioactive waste. According to this purported report about the March referendum to annex Crimea, the turnout of Crimean voters was only 30 percent. And of these, only half voted for the referendum–meaning only 15 percent of Crimean citizens voted for annexation.


Since September, you also need to look at public opinion differently in this case then you might for Western countries during the Iraq wars or Afghanistan. In those wars, those doing the dying were professional soldiers, who had signed up for it. Asides from their friends and family, the general public, if not holding strong pacifist/anti-imperialist opinions might be concerned but it did not have much day to day impact on them. To some extent this was the "special military operation" before the mobilization.

Since September, a much broader slice of the Russian population has "skin in the game", for themselves or their acquaintances. Rather than Iraq/Afghanistan an - imperfect - lens to evaluate Russian opinion from a Western PoV might be more Vietnam, where there was a draft. And one common data point might be the number of draft dodgers who fled abroad.


Since I found another approach while responding to comments, I'll share it. Note that the source, rferl.org, isn't - quite - going to be unbiased either. I mention it for completeness but have no real opinion on reliable an indicator it would be. This dates from April btw, when things were going much better for Russia:

In their experiment, the researchers used an online Russian-designed sociological tool called Toloka to recruit 3,000 adults and devised a list of questions asking respondents whether they supported one or more of four social policies: same-sex marriage, abortion restrictions, the war in Ukraine, and cash welfare payments for poor Russians.

Respondents aren’t asked to say which policies they support, merely how many of the four items they support.

In this survey, which was conducted on April 4 and which sociologists broadly call a “list experiment,” half of the respondents were given a three-item list, with the question of the Ukraine war omitted; the other half was given a four-item list that included the Ukraine war question.

The researchers also asked respondents a straightforward, yes-or-no question: “Do you support the war?”

The results showed that when Russians were directly asked the question “Do you support the war?” 68 percent said they did. When using the list experiment, however, support for the war dropped to 53 percent.

“Do Russians tell the full truth when asked about their support for the war?” the researchers wrote. “Based on our experiment, we can safely conclude that they do not.


About the impossibility of conducting such a poll, "because special reasons about the nature of asking support for/disapproval against war": YouGov's tracking of polling support for the Iraq War:

Though it has been controversial for over a decade, the invasion was actually popular at the time. In 2003, YouGov conducted 21 polls from March to December asking British people whether they thought the decision by the US and the UK to go to war was right or wrong, and on average 54% said it was right.

But more than 10 years of opposition is a long time, and many people now remember things differently. Now only 37% of the public say they believed military action against Saddam Hussein was right at the time, instead of the 54% recorded at the time.

And details about the poll timelines. The question itself? Nothing very complicated: Do you think the United States and Britain were/are right or wrong to take military actions against Iraq?

See, no rocket science, these questions can be asked, when you have an open enough government.

There is nothing inherently unanswerable about this question. What makes it in unanswerable is the nature of Putin's regime.

Update 230203: Podcast from Meduza - Beyond TV and polling in Russia is a good listen.

Dr. Morris, a professor of Russian and Global Studies in the School of Culture and Society at Aarhus University in Denmark, argues that researchers should devote more attention to less controlled platforms on social media and exercise more caution when generalizing based on survey data collected in Russia.

Dr. Morris, specifically casts some doubts about Levada.


* Lest one underestimates how hard it is to know what poll responders actually think in a context of social pressure, see the phenomenon of the "shy Trump voter" and look how hard a time Western poll specialists have had tracking actual support with full access to people and transparent processes.

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    "seems fairly probable that many Russian troops don't support the war" Yes but we don't know exactly how many. There are also enough Russian nationalists that really believe that Russians are better than anyone else and Ukrainians deserve to die. More than those who wish for peace or less? To me this seems like a really difficult question. Dec 24, 2022 at 11:03
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    There are obviously people in Russia who think it was wrong to take military actions against Ukraine, but would not accept losing / surrendering the war as it is already going on, right now - so this question does not reveal pro-war/anti-war split sought by the questioner.
    – alamar
    Dec 25, 2022 at 19:14
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    @alamar Just to be clear: support for/against a war is a yes/no question. Opposing the war covers a whole bunch of views from giving back Crimea, to just getting troops out of 2022 invasion zones. In my citation about the Iraq Q being against the war didn't necessarily mean being against the troops- if anything, being rather supportive of armed forces myself, I think bringing the troops home from an unnecessary war is helpful to the troops. In Iraq poll question, being against the war did not necessarily mean support for Saddam, it covers a whole spectrum of opinions. Dec 27, 2022 at 23:11
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    Then a lot of people will be against the war by thar definition, but it will not move the needle. Come to think of it, if you ask Putin he will surely say he is against the war. Against all wars, even.
    – alamar
    Dec 27, 2022 at 23:24
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    There are no peace talks at the moment (that we know of) so it's even not clear in which form can Putin discuss potential for withdrawing in exchange for something. Any partial withdrawal just makes Russian situation worse and reinforces Ukrainian readiness to continue fighting, which was unfortunately already proven by trial.
    – alamar
    Dec 28, 2022 at 8:27
13

There's a clever method to do this, called list experiment. Here's the description:

In the list experiment, respondents were asked whether they personally supported none, one, two, three, or four of the following things (shown in a random order): 1) monetary monthly transfers for poor Russian families; 2) legalisation of same-sex marriage in Russia; 3) state measures to prevent abortion; and 4) the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine.

Respondents are only asked how many of these they support (0, 1, 2, 3 or all 4); the options do not let them indicate which ones they support.

The clever thing about this is that half the respondents are shown all four options, in a random order. The other half are shown only the first three (option 4 is absent) in a random order. This lets you deduce how many people support the fourth option.

Example: suppose the average number of options people support when given three options is 2.1, while the average number of options supported in the other case is 2.7. In that case, we can deduce that 60% of people support the fourth option ([2.7 - 2.1] * 100%).

As of the time the article was written (April), the proportion of Russians who supported the war was 53%.

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    I didn't fully understand this - could you clarify more? How exactly can we deduce how many support the fourth option, when you don't even show the fourth option to half of the respondents?
    – sfxedit
    Dec 24, 2022 at 16:44
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    @sfxedit - an extreme example might help. Imagine of the people who are asked how many of the first three they support, 100% say they support three, but of the people who are asked how many of the first four they support, 100% say they support three. We can deduce that (approximately, given sampling error) no one supports option 4. More complicated versions but with a similar logic apply when various fractions support 0 - 4 of the options.
    – jbowman
    Dec 25, 2022 at 0:03
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    @sfxedit - because 100% of the people in the "3" sample support options 1-3, and the samples were randomly selected, it stands to reason that (at least close to) 100% of the people in the "4" sample also support options 1-3. Since they all say they support 3 options, and they (almost) all support options 1-3, that means (almost) none of them can support option 4. The "randomly selected" is key... if you have, e.g., 2000 people randomly split into two groups, it's incredibly unlikely that 90% in one group will support 3 BUT < 87% (or > 93%) will in the other (binomial distribution stuff.)
    – jbowman
    Dec 25, 2022 at 18:19
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    @sfxedit - perhaps you could frame this as a question of "how do list experiments work?" on CrossValidated and reference this question? That will allow room for a fuller answer than comments permit, plus you'll get access to the stats community.
    – jbowman
    Dec 25, 2022 at 21:30
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    @sfxedit “How can such a conclusion be drawn?” Exactly the same way as you conclude that any survey’s results represent the whole population’s beliefs. Imagine you survey only the 1500 people who were given 3 options. As in any survey, you then extrapolate their answers onto the whole population. Sound fine so far? But this population includes the other 1500 people (the people who actually were surveyed too but were given 4 options), so you estimate that they would’ve selected the same 3 options with the same frequency.
    – Chortos-2
    Dec 26, 2022 at 18:19
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Since you have expressed justified scepticism and distrust of the Russian poll data and pollsters, let's see what the other side thinks about it. The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a reputed US think-tank on international affairs had the same doubts as you - how can we truly gauge Russian public sentiments about the war and how much should we trust Russian data on this?

Their report - My Country, Right or Wrong: Russian Public Opinion on Ukraine - partly does answer your question.

How Reliable Are Russian Polls?

Many critics argue that pressure on dissent and the introduction of new criminal penalties for charges of “discrediting the armed forces” and other offenses mean that people are more scared and less willing to take part in opinion polls than they may have once been. However, research by the Levada Center to measure the response rate (as per the recommendations of the American Association for Public Opinion Research) does not back up this hypothesis. The frequency of responses, communication, and refusal to respond to Levada Center polls are broadly similar to what they were back in January 2021. In other words, Levada experts have not found corroborating evidence that Russian respondents have become more reluctant to answer sociologists’ questions since the start of the Russia-Ukraine conflict ... additional research does not back up assertions that people who do not approve of the country’s leadership are more likely to refuse to take part in a poll or that polls only represent people who are prepared to engage and answer questions.8

... It’s also worthwhile recalling that in 2014, many observers also refused to believe public opinion polls showing high figures of support for the Russian political regime following the annexation of Crimea. Over time, the expression “the post-Crimea consensus” became commonplace in analysis about post-2014 shifts in Russian public opinion. Few experts today dispute the existence of such a shift.

All said, even though it also finely analyses the data and draws a more nuanced view from it, they still conclude that most Russians do support the war (in some form or other, and not necessarily because they support the Russian government). They also think it is a low probability that this will change anytime soon because of the lack of democracy in Russia:

It would be logical to presume that these factors must bring about a change in the public mood, but for now, as far as most respondents are concerned, it is still the West that is to blame for everything. Rumblings of discontent are possible, but with the opposition and civil society decimated, the general population has shown no interest in effective self-organization. Of course, black swan events can always take the authorities by surprise. In the recent past, protests have erupted in unexpected places over unexpected causes, such as the protests in Khabarovsk in 2020. Still, given the harsh repression of unauthorized civic activity, the emergence of a massive anti-war movement in Russia is unlikely.


Note though that this data isn't only from government sources (or even government-affiliated ones). There are non-government organisations in Russia (like the Levada Centre in Moscow) that also conduct these kinds of polls and they are considered more trustworthy sources by the west.

The Levada Centre was born during perestroika in the late 1980s, when Russian politics started to open up. As citizens began to question the policies of Mikhail Gorbachev’s government so too did a group of pollsters led by Yury Levada, the godfather of Russian sociology ... But for the government, the lack of control over potentially opinion-shaping research was a concern. There was a staff reshuffle at VTsIOM in 2003 as the Kremlin apparently looked to appoint more pliable board members. Yury Levada resented the interference and set up his own private company, the Levada Centre, which soon grew into an authoritative independent voice on Russian public opinion.

According to Gudkov, some of Levada’s harshest critics have been people in the liberal opposition who argue the numbers are skewed. “They don’t want to accept that a large mass of people, poor and provincial, support an authoritative regime,” he says. “But it means they’re effectively saying: I only rely on polls that agree with my point of view.” Levada’s polls have consistently shown overwhelming support for Russia’s decision annexation of Crimea in 2014, for example: “In focus groups, respondents say: ‘We showed the world our teeth, we finally started respecting ourselves,” Gudkov says. “These people are poor, they suffered hugely after the fall of the Soviet Union. All of Putin’s demagoguery plays into this.”

Source: What happens to a pollster when Russia doesn't like the results?


2023 Update: (Some had commented that my answer may not be accurate because the surveys cited in the source were conducted before Russia declared mobilization. Hence the update with more recent surveys.)

The Levada Center, the Russian non-governmental research organisation that is listed as a "foreign agent" by the Russian Ministry of Justice and is a member of the European Research Association ESOMAR has continued to survey public opinions in Russia in 2022 and 2023. The founder of the center says that the survey indicates that Putin continues to be hugely popular and the Russian public continue to support the war "against NATO and the west":

Eighteen months after the invasion began, according to your surveys, the Russian army enjoys great support. How is this possible, when, perhaps, in addition to the conquest of Bakhmut, it has not recorded any significant victories?

Frankly, neither I nor my colleagues have a simple explanation for what the Russians are thinking or telling us about this war, because the numbers don't change.

The numbers supporting Putin as president are rock solid. We will see in a week what the results are for August, but in July it was 82 percent, the same as in March 2022, and nothing can affect it, only at the time of mobilization (in September 2022) the drop was seven points, no more, still his support was extremely high.

As for "supporting the activities of the Russian military", which we asked in the survey, those numbers do not change depending on the information about victories or losses. Such information is very strictly filtered by the Russian media, but even so people understand that the war has frozen. But for the Russians, this is not a novelty or a surprise, because they have experience with the war in Afghanistan, which lasted a decade, or with the war in Chechnya, which also lasted almost ten years. They think that war is something that happens somewhere far away with no results and this is a war of the same model. It happens somewhere else and there are no successes or defeats. It's fine for them that way.

Public expectations in the West are very different. Americans or Europeans are still deciding when the Ukrainians will do "something big", when they will achieve significant victories, when we will see the results of the Ukrainian counteroffensive.

Yes, it is. Since 2008, the Russian public has taken the opposite position to that of Europeans or the rest of the world. Then there was a short war with Georgia, when the Russians invaded and cut off two regions. NATO, the European Union and others were very critical of this, but the Russians did not care. This was repeated in 2014 with the annexation of Crimea. The Russians were happy, the others were angry, the Russians didn't care and still don't care. It is no news to us that our positions are contradictory.

Why don't the Russians care?

I don't have an answer to why they don't care, but I do have an answer to the question of how. The bottom line is that the West is the enemy of the Russians. In the minds of Russians, there is this simple equation: if your opponent says something critical about you, it means you are right. It's very simple and very powerful.

Source: The Russians don't care about the war or casualties. Even those who are against, want to 'finish what was started', describes the sociologist (translated using Google & Yandex Translate from the original Czech source - Rusy válka ani oběti nezajímají. I ti, kteří jsou proti, chtějí ‚dokončit, co se začalo‘, popisuje sociolog)

... Besides: the Russians do not see it as a conflict with Ukraine, but with the West and NATO, respectively, with the US, and they perceived it this way even before NATO member countries began to provide weapons to Ukrainians. But this is nothing new, the war in Georgia in 2008 was for the Russians a conflict with the West, the same events in Ukraine in 2014. And the evidence for this view was that all Western countries imposed sanctions on Russia, thereby proving that it was not Ukraine but the West that imposed sanctions that affected them.

Source: Translated using Google & Yandex Translate from the original Czech source - Sociolog z Moskvy: Rusové si nespojují chudobu s Putinem, je pro ně vojenským vůdcem

(See also: Few Russians wanted the war in Ukraine – but they won’t accept a Russian defeat either).

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    Levada is the same bullshit agency as is VCIOM/RPORC. Their speciality is "<20 poorly phrased and ambiguous words>, do you agree or not?"
    – alamar
    Dec 23, 2022 at 22:28
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    They are respected by the western media and think-tanks and they also face the Russian government's scathe when they publish something unpopular.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 23, 2022 at 22:44
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    There is a war going, and information warfare is part of any modern war. So what source can we really trust - after all, isn't it ridiculous to believe that Ukraine or the west would offer more "reliable" data on this subject just as it is ridiculous to trust the Russian data fully? For eg, more than 100,000+ combatants on both side have died bbc.com/news/world-europe-63580372 and yet I know there are Ukranian and Russian supporters who dispute this and and believe the US is "making this up". Whom do you really trust for this data? - our political beliefs will dictate this.
    – sfxedit
    Dec 23, 2022 at 23:17
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    @sfxedit "our political beliefs will dictate this." Not exclusively. For example I think there are at least 10000 documented Russian casualties giving a lower limit. The documentation should be convincing even if your political belief is that the Russian army is great. Dec 24, 2022 at 18:21
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    @alamar He does provide a reasonable explanation why the Russians support the war and Putin - Russians believe they are not fighting Ukraine but NATO / US who want to destroy Russia, and they support Putin because everyone - from the rich to the poor - fear the chaos that could be Russia without Putin (and was post the breakup of the USSR and before Putin took over).
    – sfxedit
    Aug 30, 2023 at 20:28
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I think the question is ill-defined in the sense that it has to come with an explicit or implicit alternative to the war.

The war and its front line is real. Anything you suggest as alternative is not real yet and has to be defined.

Take the question "Do you like winter and want it to continue?" It sounds like nonsense, to which many people may nevertheless answer "No." But if you rephrase it as whether you want to stop perceiving winter by dying tomorrow, the answer will be overwhelmingly, 100% pro-winter.

Much like in this case. The question "Do you like the war and want the fighting to continue" might as well draw a lot of "No"'s as an answer. However, the responders might just assume that you have some plan when the status quo is preserved, no more people die, no more people lose their homes and have to flee before advancing armies, and some people returning back to their homes.

If you remove this ambiguity by stating the end result that you have in mind, you will get different answers.

"Do you want Russia to remove all troops from mainland Ukraine right now, allowing Ukrainian troops to advance to the borders of Russia/Crimea, turning into homeless refugees (or imprisoned/filtered/killed) any people in those territories who are not comfortable living in Ukraine anymore on account of collaborating with Russian administration / getting Russian Federation passports / fighting on behalf of LDNR, and then hope that Ukraine becomes eager to enter peace talks instead of, like, placing artillery along Crimean border and starting shelling Crimean towns" would likely get you 80% support for continuation of some kind of war to not let that happen.

"Do you want Russia to give its constituent regions of Sevastopol and Crimea, all with 2.5 million of Russian citizens, their homes and lives to Ukraine" would likely get you 95% support for continuation of some kind of war. If a country willingly gives away its regions to other country, ones which don't have active, out of control insurrection - you can say with some degree of confidence that it's no longer really a country at this point. In fact, you no longer even have the support of far pro-western Russian opposition at this point. The political prisoner Navalny with his "Crimea is not a sandwich to toss away", or the other ones who suggest some kind of common administration of Crimea between Russia and Ukraine or more, better referendums, but not an outright betrayal of millions of their own citizens.

I believe this is the position you see as "anti-war" as explained in comments, and it would be really, really unpopular - I don't think anybody ever had a chutzpah to ask these specific questions in any polls.

There are, as mentioned, a lot of people who believe that "their country is losing economy/people/whatever" due to the war - it's just hard to explain how losing the war on such a bad conditions will stop these losses instead of magnifying them. You have to be very careful to not suggest taking a trip in the time machine to the times when this was not a problem.

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    Hmmm, you know that poll takers have a whole host of guardrails in how they formulate their question to avoid influencing the outcome? Neither version you propose would remotely pass any level of professional poll taker approval. What you are basically saying is "there is no way to ask a pro/anti war sentiment question poll". Odd statement to be making, though admittedly countries are not generally in the business of conducting polls during wartime. But freer countries than Russia do, on occasion. Here's an UK poll series re. Iraq War, just to show it can be done. Dec 24, 2022 at 0:20
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    If you ask "Do you agree with a plan to transfer two Russian constituent regions to Ukraine unilaterally without any obligations from Ukrainian side" you will get a "No". From the same people, " Would you like the war to end" may get you a "Yes".
    – alamar
    Dec 24, 2022 at 11:26
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    As a Russian citizen, I'd say that both of the example "questions" in this answer are "wife-beating questions". In other words, they're not real questions for which an answer is expected, but provocations for which the only possible reply is ignoring entirely, therefore not being included in poll at all.
    – Cerberus
    Dec 26, 2022 at 2:31
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    Russians not caring that much about LDNR does not mean Russians not caring at all. The balance between betraying a number of citizens in LDNR versus having some other citizens die on the battlefield is also a delicate one.
    – alamar
    Dec 26, 2022 at 9:02
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    @Igor As you can see from politics.stackexchange.com/a/77346/28396, Ukrainians are overwhelmingly not willing to give up on territories they don't control for almost a decade to stop the war and "accept the current and potential future costs" of that. Why do you expect Russians to willingly give away territories they actually control and which are constitutionally a part of Russia?
    – alamar
    Dec 27, 2022 at 20:49
4

There is an analytical article published in Novayagazeta.eu that uses some statistics published by Levada center in Levada.ru. The author selects the following characteristics for making the conclusions:

  • From one side, 20 % of Russian population opposes the war and is no longer afraid to answer so to this question.
  • From the opposite side, 35 % would not approve ending the war without achieving the goals Russia initially aimed for.
  • About 15 % of war opponents hide their opinion.
  • 34 % think they are responsible for destruction and civilian deaths in Ukraine (60 % think they are not).
  • Only 3% care about the "victory against Nazism"

The author also points out that while there are no mass meetings against the war, there are also no massive voluntary meetings in support of the war. A. Hitler unfortunately enjoyed this kind of support. V. Putin does not.

The author also says, there is only one, but definitely working way to measure the efficiency of the totalitarian propaganda: are the listeners rushing to the war with burning eyes? We know religious extremists that do. And in Russia, instead of fanatics with burning eyes we see mostly prisoners joining voluntary.

From Levada, absolute majority, 90% or about, are not indifferent to the situation and observe the events.

2

The thing people want to estimate here is at the very least ambiguous, as "supporting this war" means quite different things if asked in a different context. Therefore, you are limited to options of declaring a context as precise as politically possible - after all, if presented with alternatives "continue to wage war or declare a unilateral loss" even those what would say "I'd prefer this war to end" would more likely choose the first answer. This war has several goals, and at least one of expected goals has already been achieved, namely land-based route to Crimea for Russia. Thus, giving up any efforts is deemed unacceptable, especially with the ongoing effect of sanctions imposed upon Russia. And of course, the amount of people that would answer "support the war" would differ by phrasing of the question context. As in itself "Do you support the actions of Russian Army in Ukraine" as a yes or no question is already vague enough to allow statisticians to manipulate accents to whatever actions presented as examples to the person being questioned, thus any statistics you're trying to receive are bogus by pretty much default.

So TL;DR you cannot, as you're asking a yes/no opinion on a very multifaceted thing without determining which aspects you're interested in.

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    People in the West seem to not understand that sanctions and threats of reparations actually cement the public opinion in Russia. What Russians think, "the sanctions are not going away any time soon, and if we show weakness we will be stripped pantsless, so we have to suffer through this". There is no option to walk away like US/UK had in Iraq or Afghanistan.
    – alamar
    Dec 26, 2022 at 9:01
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    @alamar Unfortunately you have two statements there that both require supporting evidence if your implication that the sanctions are not useful is to be true. First, it must be true that Russians prefer continuing sanctions to ending the war, and second, it must also be true that the sanctions do not provide any other helpful effects, such as reducing Russia's capacity to wage war and/or providing a more credible indication of other's objection to the war (due to them willing to pay the cost to themselves of imposing sanctions).
    – cjs
    Dec 27, 2022 at 1:07
  • @alamar People in the West understand that the Russian economy can't sustain long-term sanctions and that technological deterioration is inevitable. While the very presence of sanctions might be cementing the anti-Western views, it's still a necessary step. I hardly can imagine people who didn't support the war from the very beginning and then suddenly started after the sanctions were imposed.
    – Igor
    Dec 27, 2022 at 2:45
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    @Vesper Let's start with the fact that the West does not offer Russia anything at this point. Some Western politicians are voicing different things, but none of that is binding in any form. The working way for the West to actually offer anything to Russia is multilateral peace talks - there are none ATM.
    – alamar
    Dec 27, 2022 at 7:48
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    @alamar Why should the West offer something to Russia at this point? What was offered to the Third Reich in 1944?
    – Igor
    Dec 27, 2022 at 21:58
1

The real support of the war among Russian citizens can be estimated using:

  • Historical data (analyzing trends across time)
  • Data with responses tallied by multiple categories, both slightly and very different from each other.

The poll by the Levada-Center accomplishes exactly that. The support for the war remains high: 77% in February 2023 (the latest press release in English), 76% on May, 2023 (the latest press release in Russian). Importantly, there is no apparent trend in the shift between categories across time. Since there was generally an increase across time in repressions against expressing anti-war sentiments, it is expected that, if the fear of repressions were affecting the poll results, there would be a shift between some categories across time, for example:

  • One could expect the percentage of "can't say" to grow with time. No such substantial increase is apparent.
  • One could expect some change across time in percentages of neighboring pairs of categories, such as "rather yes"/"rather no", or "definitely yes"/"rather yes". No such substantial trend in shifts between percentages in adjacent categories is apparent.

Overall, there is little evidence the Levada-Center poll results are systematically affected by the fear of repressions. It is accurate to say that the overwhelming majority of Russians support the war.

References:

Support for the war

Levada-Center : Conflict with Ukraine: Assessments for February 2023: https://www.levada.ru/en/2023/03/13/conflict-with-ukraine-assessments-for-february-2023/


Support for the war - May 2023 - russian

Translation: Categories (left to right): definitely yes, rather yes, rather not, definitely not, can't say. Date (top to bottom): February 2022 → May 2023

Левада-Центр : Конфликт с Украиной: оценки мая 2023 года: https://www.levada.ru/2023/06/01/konflikt-s-ukrainoj-otsenki-maya-2023-goda/

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  • But what if this poll isn't accurate? If polling were a fail-safe way to determine the truth, it would probably be done much more often. Jun 2, 2023 at 14:17
  • @Trilarion Thank you for the comment, I updated my answer to clarify it. BTW, do you mean not accurate in the sense of the large margin of error (a huge issue with one-off small-sample size polls), or large systematic bias (a huge issue, for example, if a "poll" were conducted by Russian FSB officers after arresting the people for questioning)? Jun 2, 2023 at 14:52
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    Both, large margin on error probably depends on how the Levada center chooses participants and controls for demographics and large systematic bias depends on how willingly the asked Russian citizens are to tell what they really think. The first can maybe be controlled by statistics, the latter maybe not. The question I have would be: how do we know that the people in this question answered truthfully? And this is without any possibility of the Russian government to suppress the publication of critical polls or take influence on the reported results somehow. Jun 2, 2023 at 14:56
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The only answer is that at the moment none of the ways of sharing one's opinion, with the exception of talking in a close circle of friends, is safe. In Russia you can go to jail just for standing on the street holding up a blank sheet of A4 paper or for leaving a like under a post. The polls as we understand them are a load of crap. If we have presidential elections being rigged, what can we say about polls at all? On top of that, there's a non-zero chance that answering one of the questions wrong will get you far and away. People are simply afraid for their families. Many have already given up on this struggle. You only have to look at how much the demand for psychologists and medications to treat mental problems has increased. It is very hard to understand what happens when you do not live in a country where essentially everyone is for himself. The state does everything to make people think not about something important, but just to earn their own bread. Those who can leave take their families with them. Those who can't leave, stay in the full knowledge that they can't change anything. And yet, even so, it does not compare to the horror that people in Ukraine are experiencing. The war is supported by only one type of people - those with a lack of critical thinking and the Internet - their only source of information and thoughts is propaganda on TV.

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  • "those with a lack of ... the Internet" - why do you think that's a significant demographics this far into XXI century?
    – alamar
    Dec 26, 2022 at 11:26
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    This looks just like an other statement, but not an answer to the question. Nothing that wasn´t said already in the question itself.
    – convert
    Dec 26, 2022 at 14:22
  • @convert I guess this answer could be a frame challenge to the question outlining how extraordinarily difficult it is to get reliable information. Only the last two sentences are off with the author speculating that Russians supporting the war are ignorant. That is not proven. Feb 5, 2023 at 15:40

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