Shortly before the presidential elections,
on March 23—25, the Agency for Regional Political
Studies (ARPI) carried out another routine sociological
survey. This gives us a chance to look at how reliable
these types of surveys are and ascertain what mood
voters were in as they went to the polls.
Sixty-eight percent of voters said they would definitely
go and vote. Actual turnout was 68.88 percent. The
forecasts, then, were highly accurate, though many
politicians had been worried about turnout, fearing
that voters would say they’d vote and then not do
it when the day came.
The survey showed Putin poised to take 50.7 percent
of the vote, but he ended up with more than 52 percent.
The difference falls within the acceptable statistical
margin of error, the result – a first round victory
for Putin, was predicted accurately.
Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov was predicted to
get 26.9 percent of the vote and ended up with 29.3
percent – also a fairly accurate result. Yabloko leader
Grigory Yavlinsky wasn’t so lucky, promised 9.6 percent
by the surveys and ending up with only 5.8 percent.
Something the sociologists didn’t predict happened
in the last days before the elections – perhaps the
last-minute attacks unleashed on Yavlinsky by some
media and presidential candidates took their toll.
Or perhaps Yavlinsky’s potential voters are also those
most likely to suddenly change their minds right at
the ballot box. Only 59 percent of voters polled had
already definitely made up their minds. Yavlinsky
had been hoping to make it into a second round, but
sociologists gave him no hope of that.
Asked what they thought about Putin as a candidate,
20 percent said they fully supported him and thought
him the best candidate. Fourteen percent hoped he
would bring order to the country and 12 percent supported
him because they approved of his action in Chechnya.
Ten percent said they supported Putin only because
they didn’t like any of the other candidates. Seventeen
percent said they didn’t really support him, and 12
percent didn’t support him at all.
The fact that not so many of those surveyed supported
Putin because of his action in Chechnya throws doubt
on the widespread theory that Putin’s popularity rests
only his offensive in the rebel republic. More likely,
recent improvements in the economic situation and
social sphere have had a greater impact on voters
than is commonly thought.
This is backed up by replies to a question on the
results of operations in Chechnya. Most voters were
skeptical on this count. Fifty-two percent think that
even if the authorities say they’ve achieved a victory,
some of the rebels will escape and continue fighting
a partisan war. Twenty percent think the operations
haven’t achieved their aims, and soldiers and civilians
have made sacrifices in vain, and only 12 percent
think the rebels have been crushed and victory achieved.
Another interesting question in the survey asks whether
votes will be counted correctly or whether results
will be falsified. Forty percent thought results would
be falsified, 36 percent said votes would be counted
correctly and 24 percent didn’t know.
When asked whether Putin would continue Yelstin’s
policies if elected or whether he would change direction,
39 percent expected change while 36 percent said he
would continue Yeltsin's course. Twenty-five percent
Voters’ answers also give some indication as to what
kind of direction or style of government they’d like
to see. When asked if there were situations where
the country needed a strong and authoritative leader,
42 percent said the country always needed a "strong
hand," 30 percent said it was necessary to concentrate
all power in one figure at the moment and 17 percent
said one person should not have all the power in his
These answers somewhat contradict replies to an earlier
survey carried out by the same agency. That survey
asked voters which quality they thought was most important
in a president. Most of those surveyed said the president
should be, above all, decent. After that, he should
be intelligent and knowledgeable, then honest; and
only in sixth and seventh place were decisive and
This suggests that public opinion on very general
political issues can’t always be taken as an absolute
truth. The public, like politicians, thinks things
over and has its doubts. But the majority of voters
are hoping for and expecting changes of whatever nature
to take place in the country’s life.
By Otto Latsis