Irina Bogatyreva: How Opinion Polls Are Conducted in Russia

How Opinion Polls Are Conducted in Russia
Irina Bogatyreva
July 23, 2015
About Russia

11151029_877218092326378_2792365210284757073_nIrina Bogatyreva

I just took part in one of the famous polls by VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center). They actually exist!

You are warned the survey is anonymous. First, you are asked your name (no surname), whether you are a citizen of the Russian Federation, whether you have a residence permit and whether you have had it for long, your age, education, and, finally, your occupation, income level, and your address, after all.

I was warned the survey would be about the erection of monuments, but in the event I was asked about my attitude to the president, the prime minister, the government, and the mayor, which party I intended to vote for at the elections, about Moscow’s problems, about [the incredibly controversial compulsory residential housing renovations fee, now included in monthly housing maintenance payments in Moscow], whether I am planning to emigrate abroad, and whether I consider emigrants traitors.

This was all prefaced with the phrase, “Of course, maybe you consider questions about politics uninteresting, but . . .”

I was asked twice about the monument to Dzerzhinsky, at the beginning and the end. (“Why twice?” “I don’t know, I’m just the interviewer.”) The first time I could reply as I chose, the second time, I could not. I wonder: if people give different answers, which one counts?

[Translator’s Note. It appears the Communist Party itself has just called off its proposed referendum which would have asked Muscovites whether they wanted a controversial monument to Cheka founder Felix Dzerzhinsky, torn down in August 1991, returned to its former site on Lubyanka Square.]

There were three possible answers to the question of [where to place a 24-meter-tall monument to Prince Vladimir, which has caused a huge public outcry in Moscow]: on Lubyanka, on Borovitskaya Square, in the Sparrow Hills. Saying “I don’t want it at all” was not an option.

Here and there, the survey was worded quite quaintly. For example, “Which party, in your view, has made the greater contribution to Moscow’s development?” All the existing parties where listed off, although only the Udrussians [United Russians], the commies, and one Zhirinovskyite sit in the Moscow City Duma. (“Your question is worded incorrectly.” “I don’t know anything, I’m just the interviewer.”)

They rang me at 1:00 p.m. I just happened to be at home. Working people are usually at work at this time, while it is pensioners and housewives who are at home then. I have long suspected that it is these people who “shape” all these polls.

Translated by The Russian Reader. Thanks to Comrade SC for the heads-up. This is the latest in a series of occasional posts about the Russian authoritarian regime’s use of public opinion polling, which I have dubbed pollocracy. After all, what kind of “anonymous” polling requires the respondent to identify their address?

Manufacturing Half-Baked Consent in Russia

Here is a textbook example of today’s Russian-language propaganda journalism (the bill footed by Russian taxpayers, one sixth of whom have slipped below subsistence level living, according to Rosstat).

canadian smiThe headline reads, “Canadian media: By provoking Russia, US risks following in the footsteps of Hitler and Napoleon. With its mendacious rhetoric and endless military exercises near the Russian border, the US is trying to pull Moscow into a military conflict, write Canadian media. However, journalists [sic] argue that Washington should remember how previous attempts to conquer Russia ended.”

If you actually read the article—and why bother, because its robot compilers want you to scan three things very quickly and get the takeaway message in under ten seconds: 1) like Napoleon and Hitler, the US wants to “conquer” Russia for some reason; 2) the US has been taken over by neo-Nazis—just look at the picture; 3) even the otherwise loyal “Canadian media” are writing about this fiendishness—you’ll find out that the “Canadian media” referred to is really just this one article, published on the more than dubious Canadian Putin fan club website Global Research.

The article was written by someone named Stephen Lendmann, “who lives in Chicago.”

Well, Mr. Lendmann does much more than just live in Chicago. He has also edited a nice little anthology of pro-Putin writing by western leftists and “anti-imperialists,” entitled FLASHPOINT IN UKRAINE: How the US Drive for Hegemony Risks World War III.

At $24.95 a pop, it’s a steal, I think.

Meanwhile, back in Putinland, where it will probably soon be a crime to read or speak English (lest anyone get any funny ideas), Russian readers will have to content themselves with this Russian-language summary of Lendmann’s article, which features, inexplicably, a photo of someone dressed up as Hitler and looking desperate.

A waxwork of Adolf Hitler before a 41-year-old man tore its head off from the controversial exhibit on the opening day of Berlin's Madame Tussauds July 5, 2008 is seen in this July 3, 2008 file photo. The man was arrested by police after he jumped over the desk and ripped off the head of the waxwork figure in protest of the controversial exhibit that showed a glum-looking Adolf Hitler behind his desk in a mock bunker during the last days of his life.   REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz/Files  (GERMANY) - RTX7NQ0

A quick Google image search reveals that this is not someone dressed up as Hitler, much less the world’s greatest villain himself, photographed on the eve of his demise in the bunker, but a waxwork figure of Hitler whose head was torn off by an enraged visitor on the opening day of Madame Tussauds Berlin in July 2008.

This has been a brief lesson in how consent is manufactured facilely and cynically in Putin’s Russia at taxpayer expense. Basically, all the major Russian media outlets have been engaged in this manufacturing of reality for most or all of Putin’s reign, but since the winter of 2014, the brakes have come off the buggy and fact-based reality almost never makes an appearance in such “news reports.”

* * * * * *

Sadly, lots of people here buy into this stuff, at least partly, if only in a half-baked “since they rant on about it day and night, at least some of it must be at least sort of true” way. I am not the “liberal” (i.e., profoundly misogynistic, Russophobic) Levada Center, and I don’t believe that polls in this country are used in any other way than the implicitly violent, authoritarian “we get the feedback we want” mode, so I will never cite any of these dubious surveys to make an argument about how many people believe this crap, much less how they believe it. (Which really would be the only interesting aspect of this “pollocracy” to study.)

However, a student of mine, an otherwise level-headed psychiatrist, told me the other day that the large numbers of young patients he sees with severe personality disorders and traumas had something to do with the chaos of the nineties, when many of these young people, then small kids, were left to fend for themselves, emotionally, at least. It is hard to argue with that hypothesis.

But then he said something I am sure he didn’t believe himself when he said it.

“Russians have been better off psychologically when they have had a strong leader.”

The desire to conform to “public opinion” among God’s allegedly smartest creatures is strong, almost irresistible at times, and not only in Russia.

P.S. A simple Google image search revealed that the photo of the Sieg-Heiling US neo-Nazis, above, was undoubtedly filched from this Reuters article about how, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center (who never saw a hate group they didn’t like to blow out of proportion), the number of hate groups in the US has declined by 17% over the last year.

And yet, if RT is to be believed—visually and viscerally, so to speak—these selfsame declining neo-Nazis have somehow either seized power in the US or are dictating US policy towards Moscow. Or have something to do with provoking the powerful anti-American, pro-Moscow tilt of the “Canadian” media.

In reality, they have nothing to do with anything.

us neonazis