Russian Public Opinion


Julia Ioffe writes for TNR about the latest constitutional moves in Russia:

In the West, the amendment was met with a hearty round of “how could they’s.” It was perceived as a cynical play by Putin for another stab at the presidency, and, more fundamentally, as yet another giant crack in the foundation of an anemic democracy. […]

These fears are not unfounded, of course, but for the regular folks, it’s far more simple. Fully 56 percent of Russians support the amendment because, heck, they like the president. Both of them! Of the people less favorably inclined–this third of the population mostly happens to live, by the way, in Russia’s two big (elitist?) cities–some disapprove because they don’t buy the government’s argument that they need more than four years to get everything done. In a country of red tape, city voters feel, perhaps ironically, that four years is plenty of time to achieve policy goals. More than half of the dissenters, however, defend democracy so fiercely as to render it moribund: Twelve percent of Russians say that a constitution is not for amending. Ever.

I like how the elected parliament voting to enact a popular measure constitutes a “giant crack” in the foundation of Russian democracy. Oh well. By contrast, in the United States we have a democracy so an unpopular senate minority has unlimited ability to block popular legislation that secures the support of a majority of the people’s elected representatives.

Meanwhile, the point about the cities is a good one. Most journalists and others who visit Russia go to Petersburg or Moscow — that’s where the action is. But opinion in those cities is atypical of Russian public opinion. And of course it’s a perfectly general problem. A foreign journalist posted in New York or Washington is going to get a misleading view of what the United States is like. And I think you’d say much the same is true of the major cities in just about any country.