What is the Freedom Perception of Russian Citizens?
Shortly before the Russian Presidential elections, an opinion poll of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom researched the freedom perception of the Russian citizens.
The result of the Presidential elections in Russia did not come as surprise: Vladimir Putin will stay in power for next 6 years. The opposition leader Alexey Navalny was excluded from the elections, urging for the elections' boycott. The contested strategy caused confusion among liberal-minded community. The voting turnout, still, was unprecedentedly high, thus marking consolidation of the current regime.
Continuing the discussion on how important democratic and liberal values are for the Russian society, in 2016 and 2017 the Friedrich Naumann Foundation conducted an opinion poll about freedom perception in Russia.
Download below the analysis of the opinion poll for 2017 in English and German.
The 2016 project revealed an overwhelming confusion about abstract concepts like “democracy” or “liberal market” among the respondents. 30.8% of the respondents had no answer to the question, whether there was democracy in Russia and 36.8% said that democracy exists in today’s Russia. Still, the positive answer might be explained as well by the fear not to provide a socially approved answer. The growing statistics of failed and disrupted interviews since 2016 adds to this point.
Discussions during partner events suggested several reasons for that: negative experience from the liberal reforms in 1990s and the non-existence of a fixed discourse about liberal values. In fact, having no fixed vocabulary, asking questions about freedom is rather a constant attempt to find a language to speak. As the opinion polls are highly discredited in Russia as an instrument used by political forces to justify a certain political position, they are, probably, best approached as a communication practice. The 2017 project comes as a proof to this argument, as it tried to formulate questions closer to practical life experience, rather than focusing on political concepts. For this purpose the method of sociological vignettes was used. An example refers to a very basic form of civic activity as a part of one’s daily life: taking part in a discussion about installing wheelchair ramp in a house or commenting Facebook posts with critique about state policies. Most questions were inspired by real situations discussed publicly.
The approach used allowed to see a nuanced image of how communication about freedom values evolves. For instance, 70% of the respondents answered that the mass media should be partially or fully controlled. Still, when asked, if a manager should prohibit an employee to comment Facebook posts criticizing the government, 53% answered that this should not take place. In the same vein, while 77% of those interviewed claimed they live rather by the law, it was 60% who agreed that a woman rushing to an airport may not bribe the police.
The 2017 opinion poll also included an open question about the meaning of freedom for the respondents. It was only 0.3% who associated freedom with democracy and 0.2% who somehow mentioned Constitution in their answer. Most answers referred to not being dependant on someone or something, enjoying comfortable life, being able to choose and decide freely.
59% of the respondents assessed that many people in Russia might lose their jobs in upcoming five years. 54% said the risk of interethnic conflicts might escalate.
In conclusion, alll of these findings create, probably, a not so promising image for positive change after the March elections in Russia. Have a look for yourself- download now the analysis in English and German here.