A Potentially Dangerous Situation: Russians Want Regime to Take Care of Them But Don’t Think They Can Hold It Responsible

April 9, 2015
Russian demonstrating in support of Crimea annexation on anniversary of takeover, March 18, 2015. Signs say "Sevastopol Was, Will and Shall Be" and "Thank you, Putin for Crimea". Photo by Aleksei Belkin/KM.ru

Staunton, April 7 – Russians want their government to take care of them and ensure a high standard of living, surveys routinely show, but they “do not believe in the possibility of influencing the institutions of power by civilized means” and thus are not inclined to try to hold the regime responsible, according to Sergey Yezhov.

That pattern creates the simulacrum of stability, but clashes between the expectations of the population about the government’s role and the population’s belief about its inability to influence the regime can, he suggests, spark “an outburst of anti-systemic methods of ideological struggle.

“The overwhelming majority of respondents of a new Levada Center poll,” the Moscow commentator writes in Novyye Izvestiya today, “are certain that the authorities should be concerned about people and establish common ‘rules of the game’ for all.” But this same majority does not lay particular stress on its taking action to secure that outcome.

Half of Russians, the new poll shows, think “the authorities should be subjected to the control of the population, but “only eight percent” think they must always “implement the will of the people.” Rather, almost twice as many (47 percent as against 24 percent) think the people should fulfill their obligations to the state rather than the other way around.

Three-quarters of Russians do not believe they can affect the decisions taken in their regions or in the country as a whole, 74 percent and 78 percent respectively. And a sizable share says that when they encounter difficulties, they would adapt themselves and wait (43 percent). Only 31 percent say they should use the ballot to change those in power.

Twenty-two percent are ready to turn to the judicial authorities to seek solutions, and 12 percent are prepared to turn to the media. But there is one bright spot for those concerned about Russians’ sense of efficacy and the future of democracy there: 23 percent say they would like to become more involved in political activities, the highest share over the last nine years.

Andrey Buzin, president of the Inter-Regional Union of Voters, says trend mostly reflects the worsening economic situation in the country. “But in part, government propaganda which has intensified over the last year has influenced people. It has divided society, provoked micro-conflicts, and in that way, stimulated interest in politics.”

Unfortunately, he says, this new interest and new activity may not take the form of electoral participation but rather “lead to the growth of radical movements and illegal methods of struggle,” especially given Russians’ longstanding lack of a sense of efficacy with regard to their government.