[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

Novaya Gazeta, August 14, 2003

Why Is the All-Russia Public Opinion Research Centre Being Broken Up?

By Alexander Golov and Orkhan Jemal

Yuri Levada, head of the Al-Russia Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM), announced ten days ago that his team had voluntarily broken up.

The VTsIOM isn't just being broken up; it will be incorporated, but in such a way that nothing will remain after this incorporation. According to the official version, the 100% state-owned VTsIOM polling agency has become a burden to the Labour Ministry. However, VTsIOM hasn't been taking any funding from the state budget; it is self-financing.

There is also an unofficial story about the reasons behind the crackdown on the most authoritative polling agency in Russia. VTsIOM, the largest polling agency of its kind, has produced political ratings. Moreover, it has been doing so in the lead-up to the elections. The authorities haven't liked the ratings it has produced; in the opinion of the authorities, the ratings have been incorrect in some way. Moreover, the authorities didn't like the fact that VTsIOM was so authoritative; however, it could not be faulted professionally.

All these circumstances combined to endanger the outcome of the elections - the results which Central Electoral Commission chief Alexander Veshnyakov is supposed to announce in December. And so it was decided: VTsIOM is a burden.

This newspaper has been publishing those very same ratings which the authorities didn't like and which now mean that VTsIOM is on the verge of liquidation.

One important figure from the opinion is this: only 5% of those polled believe that the United Russia party represents the interests of all social groups. All the other parties rate even lower; but this is a pathetic result for United Russia, which is supposed to be the election favourite.

Even more importantly, 37% of respondents (this is the top score) think the Communist Party (CPRF) represents the interests of the most numerous social group: "ordinary citizens - state-sector workers, manual workers, agricultural workers." On this point, United Russia's score was less than half that of the CPRF. The gap between these two parties is even greater on support for the interests of the poorest social group: 29% for the CPRF and one-sixth of that for United Russia.

It's worth noting that the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia (LDPR) scored an unexpectedly high result in this poll. It was third after the CPRF and United Russia for a number of questions.

This is unlikely to mean that lots of people have started to trust Vladimir Zhirinovsky. In the 1999 elections, Zhirinovsky's party barely made it across the 5% threshold.

The secret is that Zhirinovsky gets the protest vote: voting for the LDPR is equivalent to voting against all candidates. The LDPR amazed everyone with its results in the Duma elections ten years ago. That was the result of the despair felt by voters after government troops opened fire on the parliament building.

Finally, for three social groups (cultural and academic elite, the middle class, and the intelligentsia), most respondents chose YABLOKO as the party that best expresses the interests of those groups (16%, 19% and 26% respectively). The middle class is a guarantor of social stability. This means that all the efforts of United Russia to present itself as the guarantor of stability have failed.

The Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) led the poll only for expressing the interests of oligarchs and directors of enterprises (24% and 16%); which means that YABLOKO's main rival (more conformist and less in opposition than YABLOKO) is weaker.

Are You for the Bolsheviks or the Communists?

To make it clear what "weighting" particular social groups have, and thus how many votes each party will receive, VTsIOM drew up the following diagram.

As a rule, poll respondents take their own social group into account. Half of them consider themselves ordinary citizens (52%); 14% say they belong to the poorest group, and another 14% to the intelligentsia; 7% consider themselves middle class; 4% say they are part of the wealthiest groups; and 12% didn't name their social group.

Thirty-one percent of respondents across all social groups say they accept the CPRF as "their" party, but only 20% intend to vote for it. United Russia's situation is the reverse: 18% of respondents consider it their party, but 19% intend to vote for it. For YABLOKO the corresponding figures are 12% and 7%, for the SPS 10% and 2%, for the LDPR 11% and 6%.

In this respect the CPRF leads the poll on both acceptance and voting intentions, followed by United Russia, YABLOKO, the LDPR, and the SPS.

Social Altruism

United Russia, the pro-Kremlin party, is the only party for which the voting intention score is higher than the acceptance score; even so it trails the CPRF by 1%. To understand this phenomenon of "social altruism", VTsIOM examined the difference between "acceptance" and voting intentions for United Russia among various social groups.

Revealingly, 41% of those in the wealthiest social groups consider United Russia to be their party, but only 22% intend to vote for it. As for the poorest social group, only 8% consider United Russia to be their party, but 15% will vote for it.

In order to understand what this means, it is necessary to realize that the higher the social group, the broader the options for choice of political party. The interests of the upper social groups are not expressed by one party alone; two of the five parties are accepted by those groups as "their" parties. But the poorest groups have no real choice; only 0.7 parties out of five were accepted there.

Quo Vadis?

The figures quoted above also make it possible to estimate potential changes in the parties' ratings in the time before the elections. It isn't hard to see that for those parties that score higher on voting intentions than acceptance, the only possible direction for the voting intention score is down. But for those scoring higher on acceptance, the voting intention score might well be raised.

Any successful PR efforts by a party can sway undecided voters to vote for it; but no amount of campaigning can really increase its social support base - that is, induce a greater number of voters to consider it "their" party.

The SPS has the greatest scope for raising its rating (five-fold); YABLOKO and the LDPR could double their ratings; the CPRF could raise its rating by one-third; but the only prediction for United Russia is a small decline.

Ballot papers on election day will include another option as well: "against all candidates". It frequently happens in elections that the "against all" option gets more votes than any actual candidate. In predictions for the Duma elections, it is already clear that there is some support for this option. And support could rise as election day approaches, mostly due to undecided voters. VTsIOM has drawn up a diagram showing support for the "against all" option among various social groups, and the possibility of this support increasing. There is also a connection here with the lack of any real choice for the poorest social groups.


The parliamentary elections of 1999 were virtually unpredictable. The newcomers were most successful: the aggressively bureaucratic Unity movement and its liberal appendage, the SPS. Unity called itself the party of the president, rested on the laurels of the campaign in Chechnya, recruited well-known individuals into its ranks, and claimed that it would be "the power for all times". Unity took its votes from the CPRF. The SPS never did manage to figure out whether it was or wasn't part of the opposition, but this party of the rich bourgeoisie was essentially pro-Putin as well. The SPS took its votes from YABLOKO. The authorities were satisfied with this situation, and would like to preserve the status quo.

The research done by VTsIOM smashes the picture which the regime is trying to impose on the public.

United Russia - the party using Putin's name as a cover - is not the unquestioned favourite. It transpires that the CPRF has better chances; and we may well see a "red comeback", as in 1995. Back then, it was a reaction to the badly-planned reforms carried out in the interests of a small part of the rich bourgeoisie. Now, on the contrary, the pro-Kremlin party is supporting the war against the oligarchs; yet the public still doesn't believe this war is either real or necessary.

VTsIOM's calculations indicate that support for the opposition YABLOKO is rising, despite all the claims that YABLOKO (the "helpless intelligentsia" party) is finished. If we believe VTsIOM figures, it can't be ruled out that those who are considered the opposition may win the Duma elections. It has been a constructive opposition until now, constructive with respect to Putin first of all; but once it has secured popular support, the opposition may become less constructive and conformist.

VTsIOM has presented a picture which the president, the government, and the Central Electoral Commission are very reluctant to accept. If this was fifty years ago, the authorities could simply declare opinion polls a "bourgeois pseudo-science", and that would be that. But those times have passed, and we don't have those kind of leaders any more; so far, they have restricted themselves to breaking up the polling agency that "paints an inaccurate picture."

Of course, this is only research; but it is research that has been carried out by competent and authoritative specialists. The election results may differ from these forecasts, but only by a few percentage points. Remember these figures - and know that if the election results turn out to be substantially different, then you are being misled.


See also:

State Duma elections 2003

State Duma elections 1999


Novaya Gazeta, August 14, 2003

[home page][map of the server][news of the server][forums][publications][Yabloko's Views]

Project Director: Vyacheslav Erohin e-mail: admin@yabloko.ru Director: Olga Radayeva, e-mail: english@yabloko.ru
Administrator: Vlad Smirnov, e-mail: vladislav.smirnov@yabloko.ru