Living Levada Loca

Komar & Melamid, Russia's Most Wanted Painting, 1995. Image courtesy of Dia Art Foundation
Komar & Melamid, Russia’s Most Wanted Painting, 1995. Image courtesy of Dia Art Foundation

The Picture Is Going to Get Prettier
Greg Yudin
Vedomosti
September 6, 2016

The latest attack on the Levada Center (this past Monday, the organization was labeled a “foreign agent”) provoked a justified outcry from people in various parts of the ideological spectrum, from the center’s friends competitors, and opponents. The formal basis of the attack was the insane law that punishes people and organizations for something that should be rewarded. If Russia wants to be strong in academic research, then here were researchers who collaborated with serious foreign partners. (The University of Wisconsin, with whom the Levada Center had been working, has traditionally been a powerhouse in sociology.) Worse, the law construes “political activity” as something unsavory right at a time when Russia really needs to awaken an interest in politics, and any NGO willing to study the dynamics of political life in Russia deserves all the encouragement it can get.

The Russian Ministry of Justice can paralyze the operations of one of the country’s three major public opinion polling factories one and half weeks before national and regional parliamentary elections on September 18. In this case, the elections will be held with a newly configured polling industry, which has not changed for a long time. Putting our emotions aside, however, the assault on the Levada Center seems unexpected. For the past decade, the organization has objectively worked to maintain the current regime’s legitimacy.

The public opinion research field, a field once populated by many players, was purged by the Kremlin ten years ago, leaving only three companies standing. Two of them, FOM (Public Opinion Foundation) and VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center) are substantially affiliated with the Kremlin, since they are wholly dependent on the commissions they regularly receive from the presidential administration and other government agencies. The Levada Center, on the contrary, has been financed independently of the Kremlin, and the liberal views of its senior staff have put the company almost in political opposition to the current regime. Yet the outcomes of the Levada Center’s polls have rarely diverged from the data published by its colleagues and competitors. The numbers adduced by all three pollsters have usually generated a sense of broad or overwhelming support for everything the authorities do, however aggressive and irrational it sometimes might appear.

Praise from the enemy is worth twice as much, especially if it is voiced publicly. Vladimir Putin has confessed on several occasions that polls mean a lot to them, and when the Levada Center records public support for him, this is proof the support is undeniable. Look, even our opponents are forced to admit the people are behind us, the regime’s supporters say time and again. These same people sincerely believe research results depend on who pays for the research.

Research studies, however, are much more complicated, and the results of Levada Center’s polls have had nothing to do with the political stance of its executives. Instead, they are stipulated by the way polls are conducted. In daily life, Russians show little interest in politics, so if you deluge them with a wave of news reports about some issue of little importance to them, such as relations with Turkey, and then ask them the next day whether we should be afraid of Turkey, they will respond in good faith based on the information they got the day before. With few exceptions, the Levada Center has humbly tackled the political agenda set by television, and asked the same questions as the other pollsters, questions focused on this agenda, predictably garnering nearly the same outcomes as the other pollsters. However, the center’s alleged oppositional status made the answers more important for the authorities and, at the same time, indirectly increased the credibility of the other companies. The depressive antidemocratic discourse about the stupid, aggressive common people with which the middle classes have been spooking each other nationwide has largely been the product of the Levada Center’s poll numbers, even if the outcome was unintentional.

You need a good reason to shoot the goose that has been laying golden eggs. What compelled the authorities to break off a piece of the rigging propping up its legitimacy? I should explain right off the bat how the Levada Center does actually differ from the other two major Russian pollsters. The difference has nothing to do with honesty or professionalism. The myth that one group of sociologists does honest work, while the two others fake the numbers is not even worth discussing seriously, and yet they all get the same results.

What matters much more is the fact that the Levada Center does not get commissions from the Kremlin. The Kremlin cannot tell it what questions to ask and what results to make public. We should not forget the poll results reported in the Russian media are only the poll results the client has allowed them to publish. The client can impose a temporary or permanent veto on publication of the results. The media’s picture of public opinion thus passes through two powerful filters nowadays. First, the client imposes on the polling organizations the subjects for which he is willing to pay, and then he decides what information he would like to make available to the public. The Kremlin can easily ban publishing results that shatter the image of monolithic public support for its decisions, and it has often done this.  It has no such power over the Levada Center, although in recent times it has not needed it, since the company has not produced polling data that would put the Kremlin in a vulnerable position.

Polling data has been long the main fodder from which Russians shape their notions about the balance of power at election time and decide how to vote. The numbers act like a tranquilizer, persuading voters not to waste time and energy by getting involved in elections whose outcome is clear in any case. Simultaneously, they send a signal up and down the power vertical about how much “slack” needs to be made up at the local voting precincts. The main thing is not diverge to too radically from the polls. If the Kremlin has had to break with this way of doing things on the eve of the elections, it means the independent player had become too dangerous. The mirror reflected something that forced the Kremlin to throw a stone at it.

If the Levada Center is forced to suspend operations, the credibility of poll numbers will drop, and the client will increase pressure on the remaining players. We will have to treat the polling numbers we see before and after the elections with a bigger grain of salt. If before, the public was shown only the pretty half of the picture, while the ugly was hidden from it, now it will see even less of the picture.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader

We Are Just Making It Up as We Go Along

A map of European countries by average monthly wage, as denominated in euros. Source: Wikipedia
A map of European countries by average monthly wage, as denominated in euros. Source: Wikipedia

Personal income of Russians shrank by 52.2% in January 2016 as compared to December 2015. According to the report by the state statistics body Rosstat, the monthly income in January averaged only 21365 rubles (about USD $291) though only a month ago it was 45212 rubles ($614). Elena’s ModelsMarch 9, 2016

Pollocracy continues its triumphant march across the sweeping plains and endless forests of the world’s largest country, stamping out the last vestiges of real reality there.

Less than a month before nationwide elections to the Russia State Duma and regional legislative assemblies, on September 18, 2016, the Public Opinion Foundation (whose Russian abbreviation FOM should be changed to FOAM) has published the results of a new survey, according to which more than fifty percent of Russians believe the country’s economic situation is satisfactory. At the same time, reports RBC, 44% of respondents said depositing money in Russian banks was a reliable way of saving it.

This astounding victory for what the FOAMsters euphemistically call “sociology” comes amidst a spate of bank license revocations by the Russian Central Bank, a hunger strike by miners at Rostov mining company King Coal, who have not been paid back wages amounting to over 4.1 million euros since May 2015, and an abortive attempt by Krasnodar farmers to drive their tractors in a convoy to Moscow to protest the parceling off of prime land by authorities in the region to big agribusinesses instead of to them.

And those are just the recent “economic achievements” that came immediately to mind when I saw those dubious poll results. There are hundreds of more such examples that I could adduce, starting with the fact that there have been more than a few reports in the media and elsewhere about a decline in the real wages and income of Russians over the past couple of years.

Things are indeed going swimmingly for the Russian economy, and we know that is the case, yet again, because the utterly objective Russian pollsters have told us so. TRR

The Eighty Percent: Defending Ethnic Russians in Russia

Ahtem Chiygoz, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatars who has spent the last year and a half in jail on trumped-up charges of "organizing rioting" and "destruction of property." Photo courtesy of 112 UA and RFE/RL
Ahtem Chiygoz, a member of the Mejlis of the Crimean Tatar People who has spent the last year and a half in jail on trumped-up charges of “organizing rioting” and “destruction of property.” Photo courtesy of 112 UA and RFE/RL. See the second article, below, for details

FADN Called on to Protect Ethnic Russians
Irina Nagornykh
Kommersant
July 27, 2016

Nine percent of Russian citizens feel they are discriminated against ethnically. In some regions, for example, Tuva, such citizens constitute as many as twenty-six percent, and they hail from the Russian-speaking population. These figures were arrived at by pollsters commissioned by the Federal Agency for Ethnic Affairs (FADN), Igor Barinov, the agency’s head, said yesterday at the Terra Scientia camp. Barinov promised to protect the ethnic Russian population in such regions, and said next year the agency planned to earmark 170 million rubles [approx. 2.3 million euros] on grants for projects in the field of interethnic relations.

Barinov cited the results of a сlassified Georating survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM) while speaking to young people at the Terra Scientia Russian Education Youth Forum on the Klyazma River on the last day of a session that brought together young experts in the field of interethnic relations. According to Barinov, the poll was conducted in June at the FADN’s behest. Pollsters discovered that, on average nationwide, nine percent of the population experienced ethnic discrimination. In certain regions, however, such as Karachay-Cherkessia and Tuva, the situation was more tense. In Tuva, twenty-six percent of citizens complained of ethnic discrimination.

According to Barinov, the number coincided with the number of Russian speakers resident in Tuva, which means we can assume it was this segment of the population who felt they were ethnically discriminated against. Barinov was asked who would protect the interests of ethnic Russians. According to some young people in the audience, ethnic Russian were not as well organized in defending their interests as other ethnic groups in Russia. Barinov cited the fact that 115 million ethnic Russians resided in the Russian Federation, which constituted eighty percent of the country’s population, and in places where the ethnic Russian population predominated, as in Central Russia, this assistance was social and economic in nature. But in regions like Karachay-Cherkessia and Tuva, he promised to protect ethnic Russians.

“We have the authority,” he stressed.

Responding to the same question, Magomedsalam Magomedov, who oversees ethnic relations in the presidential administration, said the “Russian people’s historical mission [was] to unite Russia’s ethnic groups,” and the outcome was the “emergence of a unique civilization whose national leader is President Vladimir Putin.”

“None of the ethnic groups in Russia can feel good if the Russian people feels bad,” concluded to Mr. Magomedov.

According to Barinov, next year the FADN plans to allocate around 170 million rubles on grants for projects in the field of ethnic relations.

“If everything is okay with the budget. We’re at the head of the Finance Ministry’s queue,” he added, reminding the audience that the FADN is awaiting the transfer of the part of the Federally Targeted Program for developing Crimea that concerns the rehabilitation of ethnic groups repressed during Soviet times.

Campers will receive several grants in the amounts of 300,000, 200,000, and 100,000 rubles to support existing interethnic policy projects in the country’s regions from the camp’s organizers: the Russian Federal Public Chamber, Rosmolodezh (Russian Federal Agency for Youth Affairs), and the presidential administration’s Office for Domestic Policy. Moreover, the FADN plans to summarized suggestions made by the campers on concepts for celebrating National Unity Day (November 4), including the brand Russian Braid, which would weave together all the peoples of Russia, comics about different ethnic groups on buses, video clips in airports, and the project Travel with Purpose, which would involve ethnic youth exchange tourism. Session participants plan to appeal to the present not to limit the celebrations to one day a war, but to declare an entire “year of national unity.”

Translated by the Russian Reader. Thanks to Sergey Abashin for the heads-up

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Who Is Ahtem Chiygoz? The Story of a Crimean Tatar Political Prisoner
Ehor Vasylyev
112 UA
July 29, 2016

A Case That Will Last for Years
Ahtem Chiygoz was arrested on January 29, 2015, as part of the so-called February 26 case. That day he went to the State Investigative Committee in Crimea for questioning, and in the evening the illegitimate Kyiv District Court of Simferopol sentenced him to three months in police custody.

Chiygoz was charged under Article 212.1 of Criminal Code of the Russian Federation: organization of riots accompanied by violence and destruction of property.

Russia accuses activists of being involved in the “riots” on February 26, 2014, which arose near the Crimean parliament during two rallies, one held by the supporters of Ukraine’s territorial integrity , another, by activists of the party Russian Unity.

Since Chiygoz’s arrest, the Crimean courts have been periodically extending his time in police custody. (The last time it was extended until October 8, 2016.)

From March 8 to March 11, 2016, Chiygoz was a hostage: a so-called judge of the Crimean Supreme Court, Galina Redko, arbitrarily (extrajudicially) extended his time in jail.

In addition to Chiygoz, other Crimean Tatars have been charged with involvement in the “riots”: Ali Asanov, Mustafa Degermendzhi, Eskender Kantemirov, Arsene Yunusov, and Eskender Emirvaliev.

The first two have been in police custody for over a year. Another two men, Eskender Nebiev and Talat Yunusov, have already been convicted and sentenced to probation.

In February 2016, two years after the events, the court decided to re-investigate the case. Chiygoz, Asanov, and Degermendzhi were forced to remain in custody.

On July 20, the preliminary hearing began, but it was closed to the public. The Supreme Court of Crimea proposed to divide the case and try Chiygoz separately from the other defendants.

“There are 80 injured parties and witnesses: the case could drag on for years. The court usually questions one or two witnesses a day,” says one of Chiygoz’s lawyers, Emil Kurbedinov.

An Alien Land
Russian prosecutors accuse Ahtem Chiygoz of acts carried out in Ukraine by a Ukrainian citizen against other Ukrainian citizens. Russian prosecutors have prosecuted only Crimean Tatars.

The prosecution is trying to assert the right of the Russian justice system to react to the February 26 rally, which was allegedly directed against Russian interests. The prosecutor general says Russian Unity had a special permit for holding a rally, while the Mejlis did not have such a document.

In addition to violence during the riots, Chiygoz is accused of destruction of property.

“Unidentified Crimean Tatars rushed into the Crimean Parliament, damaged and destroyed its property in the amount of 9,730 rubles,” claims one of the court documents. However, a few hours after the incident, armed Russians occupied the Crimean Parliament and also damaged property.

Why Chiygoz?
“Ahtem Chiygoz at first took a moderately radical position. The prosecutor’s office called him a man ‘in charge of the Mejlis power bloc.’ In winter 2014, he openly expressed the quite radical position that we should not recognize anything,” noted First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis Nariman Jalal.

In fact, Chiygoz’s position coincides with the opinion of Ilmi Umerov, who is known as an experienced, fairly moderate politician. Ilmi Umerov is quite close to Chiygoz. They both belong to the Bakhchisarai wing of the Mejlis.

“In 2014, we organized many pickets, along the roads, near the military units. Ahtem was actively involved in organizing these events,” says Umerov.

Chiygoz was warned about avoiding “extremist activity,” and some people even complained about him to the Russian FSB. However, Chiygoz did not stop his work, and a month before his arrest, he attended a meeting between Crimean leaders Mustafa Dzhemilev and Refat Chubarov and Ukrainian President Poroshenko.

In 2014, the two Crimean Tatar leaders, Dzhemilev and Chubarov, were not allowed entry to Crimea.

“Chubarov had five deputies, and Ahtem was the main one,” Umerov explains.

Dzhemilev and Chubarov were refused entry to Crimea as a part of a Russian plan. The Mejlis should be headed by a collaborator. Ahtem Chiygoz was the main obstacle to implementing this plan.

“The Russians believed that Chiygoz encouraged them to rebel. That was why they decided to remove him. At the same time, Chiygoz has been a ‘show’ victim: do not stick your heads out, otherwise your fate will be the same,” stresses Nariman Jalal.

But the plans to co-opt the Mejlis have failed.

“It was a miscalculation. They thought Chiygoz was a kind of central link. They failed to realize the majority of the members of the Mejlis took the same position as Chiygoz; they did not want to be co-opted,” adds the First Deputy Chairman of the Mejlis.

Chiygoz called upon all Crimean Tatars to harshly boycott compatriots who collaborated with the occupying power.

“Different challenges have befallen our people. And we deal with them with honor! No one can break us with prisons or camps! We are not afraid of searches and arrests! We cannot be fooled by puppets! Crimea will never be without the Crimean Tatars,” Chiygoz has written from prison.

And his name is etched in gold in the history of Crimea.

The original of this article was published, in Russian, by Ukrainska Pravda. I have lightly edited the heavily abridged English translation, above, to make it more readable. TRR

Spiral of Silence

spiral-of-silence-communication-theory

Greg Yudin
Facebook
April 3, 2015

Let me tell you a story about opinion polls.

The so-called spiral of silence has often been recalled recently in Russia in connection with public opinion polls. The idea behind the spiral of silence is simple. As soon as an opinion is conveyed either in the media or those selfsame surveys as having support from the majority, the minority, out of fear, prefers either to keep silent or join the majority. The idea has been used to explain where unanimous opinions, 86% ratings, total approval, etc., come from. Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, the “godmother” of public opinion polling in post-war Germany, coined the term “spiral of silence” in 1980. And so in Russia, it is usually argued that the spiral of silence is an inherent feature of public opinion, because it was discovered in Germany, a proper bourgeois country.

We know that Noelle-Neumann was a Nazi. She did not join the party per se, but she did head a branch of a party student organization, made a considerable stir in the US by actively promoting Nazism, and later worked for two years at Goebbels’s weekly newspaper Das Reich.

But that is not so important. Many people suffered from Nazi fever, including social scientists. What is more interesting is that while many of those people somehow reflected on their Nazi experiences, trying in different ways to explain what had led them to do the things they did, Noelle-Neumann went into total denial. All her life, she maintained that she had done nothing extraordinary, that Hitler was a charming man, and that she had just been forced to denounce Jews, and in fact, she had secretly opposed the regime. It is easy to see how she opposed it if you take a gander at the articles she wrote for Das Reich. It is as if a columnist for the current incarnation of Izvestia would say that he had secretly been fighting for peace and harmony in Russia.

Subsequently, the spiral of silence theory was repeatedly tested, and it turned out that it works poorly in multipolar societies. If it explains anything at all, however, it explains the personal experience of Noelle-Neumann herself. It is her own fear that she identifies with the intimidated majority. She tries to justify this fear by arguing that the spiral of silence is something ordinary and inevitable. But this is a bad excuse, because, in order to save her conscience, she justifies political repression, not only past repression but future repression. It is one thing to recognize that no normal person is immune from becoming a beast, and quite another thing to say it is a normal thing when people turn into animals.

In fact, as far back as her 1940 dissertation (which simultaneously functioned as a report to Goebbels’s office on American attitudes to Germany), she writes directly about the difference between the US and the Third Reich.

“In Germany, public opinion figures like the body of the people, which receives orders from the head and ensures their implementation. […] In one case, public opinion holds sway. In others, it is guided.”

All this came to mind after the stunning lecture last week by my colleague Grigory Kertman from the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM). Kertman spoke about the fear of respondents during interviews. It cannot be measured directly. You cannot ask respondents, “Are you afraid of me right now?” But Kertman cleverly got around this by collecting information from the interviewers who conduct the polls. He discovered that they are used to the fact that respondents are afraid: this is the most common cause of insincere responses. A significant part of the interview takes place in circumstances where the respondent’s fear is so strong that it is palpable to the interviewers.

This silence of the lambs is abnormal, and it has nothing to do with the “nature of public opinion.” The insatiable desire to pass human beings off as naturally cowardly creatures and justify those who systematically bully them always comes from those who themselves have been victims of violence. Nothing good will come of it. We definitely do not want to go where this spiral would lead us.

Greg Yudin is a research fellow and lecturer at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. Translated by the Russian Reader. See my previous posts on Russia’s pollocracy. Image courtesy of masscommunicationtalk.com

Kirill Rogov: Why You Shouldn’t Trust Russian “Public Opinion” Polls

One of my hobbies in recent years has been closely observing the development of Russia’s “pollocracy”—the proliferation of “public opinion” polling, media discussions of poll results, and the obvious ways in which this “mirror” has been held up to the actual Russian public to con it into believing it supports the country’s authoritarian regime and its policies with ever increasing wildness and fervor, even as other democratic venues for it to voice its opinion, such as free elections, grassroots organizations, and protest rallies, have been whittled away, hacked at or more or less outlawed (depending on the season and the concrete causes) by the regime, its security services, and the loyalist media. 

So I was amused, the other day, to read about yet another such “public opinion” poll. This one “showed” that over seventy-two percent of Petersburgers support Georgy Poltavchenko, the Putin-appointed nonentity currently warming the chair, in the city’s upcoming gubernatorial elections. Even more hilariously, this same poll claimed to have discovered that the “majority of respondents rated the campaign as calm, and not interfering with the usual lifestyle” of Petersburgers.

When I sent the “news” article about this goofy, cynical poll I had found to a local journalist friend of mine, he responded by complaining that he had been having a hard time explaining to colleagues and acquaintances in the West that “public opinion” polls attesting to the Russian public’s allegedly overwhelming support for Putin and his aggressive policies vis-a-vis Ukraine should be treated with a grain of salt, at very least. Why, he had asked, do people who otherwise think that Russia is not a free country have an almost religious faith in Kremlin-directed polls alleging fantastic levels of support for Putin? Doesn’t it occur to any of these otherwise skeptical people that there might be something fishy about the polls, how they are conducted, and the conditions (of unfreedom, rampant propaganda, fear-mongering, and coercion) in which they are conducted?

He also wondered whether I had translated anything on this topic, something he could use in his arguments with Western friends. I said that I hadn’t, but I immediately recalled the following column by liberal political analyst Kirill Rogov, published in December 2013 in Novaya Gazeta. Sadly, it has become only more relevant and timely over the intervening nine months.

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The Fiction of the “Backwards Man in the Street”
Kirill Rogov
December 3, 2013
www.novayagazeta.ru

Not a week goes by without a dreary discussion in the media of the results of yet another opinion poll showing the narrow-mindedness and conservatism of the majority of the Russian people.

The week before last, the discussion focused on a survey showing that most Russians support the repressive decrees of the “enraged printer”—the self-styled Russian Duma. Last week, poll results showing that around eighty percent of Russians believe enemies surround our country were eagerly paraphrased.

Week after week, like cold raindrops falling on the heads of the educated class, these surveys persuade it of the futility of striving for something better. They demoralize the opposition and plunge business and the liberal elite into depression. Pack your bags and turn out the lights!

In general, the past year of Russian history has been an excellent case study for political scientists, showing how authoritarian regimes buy time by tearing it, so to speak, from the clutches of history.

An explosive mixture of revolving political (and not only political) crackdowns, unbridled propaganda, and a series of skillfully organized public hysterias have spread the dark pollen of proto-fascism in the air, which has settled as a deep depression in the souls of the educated class. And those people who a year and a half ago were confident in their strength and rightness (“Who is the power here?”) walk around with heads sunk down to their collars and their pretty tails tucked between their legs.

Polls are an important part of the picture. They are the “naked sociological truth,” after all, and have a powerful effect on just those people who are able to resist the onslaught of fear, hysteria, and propaganda. It is not so easy to understand how sociological surveys are turned into a weapon of authoritarianism in its fight against society’s desire for progress.

But let us turn to facts no less naked than the polls themselves. The experience of the elections of 2011–2013 definitely implies that data about the political preferences of Russians, as reflected in the polls conducted by two of our leading pollsters, FOM and Levada Center, are regularly biased in favor of the authoritarian regime by at least ten to twelve percentage points. When purged of falsifications, voting results show that not sixty-five percent, but a little over fifty percent voted for Putin in the 2012 presidential election; not sixty percent, as the pollsters had it, but around forty-eight percent voted for Sobyanin in the 2013 Moscow mayoral race; and not fifty percent, but a little over thirty-five percent voted for United Russia in the 2011 parliamentary elections. This follows from both statistical calculations and the data collected from a fairly broad sample of monitored polling stations.

We will leave the conspiracy theories as to why this is so to the lowbrows. The non-conspiracy theories are more interesting. We can assume that the regular shift in the data comes from the fact that everyone involved in the process has a solid understanding of the “correct” result.

Simply put, they know that the majority is for Putin, Sobyanin, United Russia, and “everything bad.” As a result, people who do not support “everything bad” will be on average more likely to shy away from contact with sociologists.

Of course, there are firm “supporters” and “opponents” who express their opinions, regardless. There are, say, from fifteen to twenty percent of such people on each side. But between them is the “majority,” those people for whom politics is not a matter of daily reflection. For them, the most important thing is not even fear, as is sometimes suggested, but ordinary self-doubt and discomfort from the fact that their feelings do not coincide with the views of the “majority,” views of which they are aware in advance.

It is logical these people will be more likely to refrain from participating in polls. (The quasi-Duma, after all, has not yet issued regulations stipulating fines, suspension of driving licenses, and corrective labor for such evasiveness.) We can assume, as is likely, that they participate half as often as those whose opinion coincides with the “correct” view. (Such escapism, by the way, is quite typical not only of the uneducated but also of many educated people, whose awareness of the gap between their opinion and the “common” opinion provokes an irritated rejection of the entire public sphere and social scientists as well.) On average, this will mean, for example, that of twenty people “for Putin” and twenty “against” him, ten of those who are “for” him will agree to respond to sociologists, while only five of those who are “against” him will respond. Sociologists will come to the depressing and mathematically precise conclusion that two thirds of respondents support Putin.

Let me say it again. The majority of people, who are not very politically motivated and do not think a lot about politics, find it extremely uncomfortable to express an opinion that is not supported by “public esteem” and does not coincide with the opinion of the “majority.” This can be defined as the indirect effect of propaganda. The direct effect is when people reproduce what they have heard on TV. The indirect effect is when they do not express opinions that differ from those they hear from “authoritative sources.”

In polls on “hot” topics, this distorting effect should be even stronger. People are asked whether they think Pussy Riot should be punished, whether adoptions of Russian children by foreigners should be allowed, and whether we should feud with our enemies. But the truth is that the majority does not think anything at all about these topics. The values conflicts behind these questions are remote from these people’s lives, and all they can say about them is what they have heard from the same authoritative sources. Or they can avoid answering the questions.

This does not mean we should give up on sociology. On the contrary, we need more of it. Personally, polls are like bread, water, and air to me. We just need to understand that what sociology measures are not “thoughts” and “opinions,” but the echoes of thoughts and opinions. It finds out what clichés and ideologemes people use. Under pluralism, quantitative sociology usually works as follows: the mass media, politicians, and experts actively discuss two viewpoints on a topic, and sociologists go out into the “field” and measure which way the scales are tipping. Under authoritarianism, in which channels of public communications are monopolized, this mechanism stops working or, rather, its meaning changes. In this case, polls reflect not the balance of opinions, but the imbalance in communications—authoritarianism’s informational superiority in quantitative terms.

However, we should remember that the “common people” do not always “obey” the TV. Thus, on the issue of corruption and lawlessness, the opinion of seventy to eighty percent of respondents radically diverges from the TV’s opinion.

That is because this problem lies within the scope of their daily experiences. But the admissibility of self-expression on church altars, the international situation, and adoption regulations are complete abstractions, and the man in the street can only repeat what he has heard in passing. And we know what he has heard in passing. But this does not mean that the average person is willing to put up with all the other outrages of the regime.

The image of the “backwards man in the street” who supports “everything bad” is a fiction created by authoritarianism and is meant to justify its existence by suppressing the will of “dissenters” to resist. Not that this “backwardness” does not exist, but authoritarianism amplifies it several times over, simultaneously suppressing other overtones of public perceptions. The success of this technique, on the one hand, extends the life of authoritarianism, but on the other hand, it generates the mechanism of unpredictability that plays a key role in its subsequent downfall.

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 Photos courtesy of The Telegraph and Business Insider.