04/11/2022, 09.35
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Ukrainian invasion, Russians' deceptive consent for Putin

by Vladimir Rozanskij

Government and independent polls put popular approval of the Russian president at 80%. But respondents fear of consequences limits free expression and veracity of data. In reality, the country is divided on support for the ongoing war. Many express only a sense of "patriotism".


Moscow (AsiaNews) - All polls conducted among the Russian population, both those controlled by the state and those independent, show a great growth in support for Vladimir Putin. Before the beginning of the war against Ukraine, the Russian president's approval rating was almost at an all-time low (a slim majority), while today it has returned to the triumphant 80% of the time of the annexation of Crimea.

A very evident factor is the bombastic state television reports, which magnify the victorious course of the "special military operation" in Ukraine, without hardly mentioning the increasing number of casualties among Russian soldiers. Without using the words "war" and "invasion", forbidden by the official lexicon under penalty of severe sanctions, the television broadcasts live the frequent speeches of the president, with the calls to take up arms and defend the homeland, such as the spectacular rally of March 18 at the Olympic stadium in Moscow.

In recent days, the most authoritative sociological research center in Russia, the Levada Institute, has published the results of the latest polls: they show a steady popular support for the aggressive presidential policy. Yet, along with the consensus, there is a noticeable reluctance among the population to speak openly and honestly about current events, what the London School of Economics calls "preference falsification" in the field of statistics and sociology. It remains to be seen whether this position conceals a criticism of the Russian leadership, or is just indifference to clearly biased information.

According to some researchers, such as Filipp Čapkovskij and Max Šaub, "it is clear that fear of repression can lead to altering statements about one's preferences, but it is difficult to demonstrate this social mechanism". For this reason, the pollsters used a data collection mechanism called "Toloka", normally used in marketing: 3 thousand answers to a list of questions about practices such as homosexual marriages, limitation of the right to abortion, the war in Ukraine, subsidies to Russian citizens on the poverty line and others were collected in a short time, without asking for consent to these points, but only the total number of those approved.

Half of the respondents had been included the point on the war in Ukraine, and not the other half, and all had been included the generic question "do you approve of the war?", to be answered directly yes or no. The results show that 68% support the war, but from the "special list" of questionnaires that consensus is just over 53%. The researchers' comment is that the Russians are not actually telling the truth on this point.

Public opinion is affected by information censorship, for example, the failure to report the withdrawal of Russian troops from Kiev, which was considered the main target of the war campaign, and also the fact that none of the occupied cities can be considered under the total control of Russian troops. Not to mention the massacres of civilians in Bucha and other locations, which when the Russians turn to the foreign press are branded as a sham by the Ukrainians, while internally they are simply ignored.

Many experts are asking Levada to also publish the "coefficient of responses," i.e., the number of those who agreed to respond, versus those who refused. The director of Levada, Denis Volkov, has so far not agreed to comment on this request, merely admitting that the percentages of consensus were set "from above" even before the military actions began. He also noted that such a discounted and "constructed" consensus does not appear monolithic, however, and ultimately it can be said that "one half of the population supports the president without ifs and buts. In the remaining half there are many doubts: they do not approve of the war, but they consider it a duty to express their patriotism."

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