The War is Unpopular in Russia

Published at 10:19 on 12 March 2022

Some people are claiming Russians support Putin’s war, citing polling data to back this up, but let’s think about what those polls are saying for a moment in the broader political context.

That context is the polling taking place in a country with basically no freedom of expression, a country where opposition media is banned, a country where peaceful protesters are arrested and tortured, a country where people are randomly accosted by police on the street so that messages on their smartphones can be checked for anti-Putin sentiments.

Imagine that you are a Russian. You know the risks involved in opposing the government. A random stranger approaches you on the street, or calls your phone, and claims to be an opinion researcher. S/he asks you if you support or oppose the most significant policy the government is currently engaged in. For all you know, he or she may in fact be a member of the FSB, Putin’s secret police. How do you answer?

It’s pretty obvious that all answers to any poll about issues of consequence in a country like Russia are answers given under significant duress.

As such, anything less than overwhelming support for the government is basically meaningless for purposes of concluding actual support. By “overwhelming” I mean 95% at minimum. Lukewarm support in the 60–70% range probably means significant overall opposition to the issue being polled about (and is probably as opposition-y as one can reasonably hope to see).

And the actual level of professed support for Putin’s war shown in that poll is… 58%!

Mark my words, the “majority” opinion expressed in that poll says the exact opposite of what a majority says in more normal circumstances.

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