Along with the large polling centres, Russian citizens’ attitudes toward the war in Ukraine are monitored by two independent projects — Russian Field (see a review of eight rounds of their surveys on Re: Russia) and the "Chronicles" project. The latter's significance lies not only in the additional questions they ask respondents, but also in the fact that, of the prominent pollsters, only the "Levada-Center" regularly publishes its polling data. The "Public Opinion" foundation and the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), which are affiliated with the Kremlin, only publish their data in a fragmentary manner. The "Public Opinion" foundation stopped publishing their opinion polls on attitudes toward the war back in the spring and VTsIOM, in August; neither published data for September and October. In this situation, data from independent projects makes it possible to compare results and to understand their stability.
The highest figures of support come from the "Levada-Center".This may be due to the face-to-face polling method they use, which might negatively affect respondents' sense of security, while Russian Field conducts phone surveys. Even lower support rates were registered by the "Chronicles" surveys. This is linked to the introduction in March of the option "don't want to answer this question", in addition to the "support/not support/difficult to answer" options. This decreased both the share of those who support and the share of those who do not support the war (10-17% of respondents chose not to answer this question). Therefore, the difference in the results probably demonstrates the "environmental pressure" respondents feel when answering this question. At the same time, the data from the "Levada-Center" and "Chronicles" align, showing a gradual decline in support at the end of summer and into autumn.
In a report based on six waves of research, Nadia Evangelian and Andrei Tkachenko, analysts at the “Chronicles” project, have written that the longer the conflict in Ukraine lasts, the more anxious Russians become about their futures, which corresponds to fewer respondents supporting military action in Ukraine. A negative attitude towards the war is more common among women, younger respondents, the more educated, people with lower incomes, and those who have experienced hardships during the conflict. Accordingly, men and respondents with higher incomes are more likely to support the continuation of the war. Among those who welcome the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine, there are many people who feel safer now than before, even if their incomes have been significantly reduced during the war. However, age remains the most vital socio-demographic factor determining support or non-support for the “special military operation”. It should be noted that these results are in line with the "Levada-Center" data — this creates a fairly stable picture of the situation.
As expected, those who trust the news they receive from television, radio, or Russian print media have a more positive attitude toward military operations. However, respondents who are able to discuss what is happening with their loved ones are more critical of the Russian authorities' actions. "Kitchen talk" largely becomes anti-war in its sentiment. Those who are social media-oriented are less likely to support the war. At the same time, "Odnoklassniki" users have a more positive attitude toward the war, while the audience of "VKontakte" and Instagram is more critical.
Respondents with an above-average income demonstrate a higher level of support for the war than those with a low-income, the "Chronicles" data shows. At the same time, respondents' forecasts for their financial situation appear to be a more important factor for support of the military operation than whether their real income has decreased over the course of the past months of the war. Russians who have personally felt the effects of Western sanctions, lost their jobs or a portion of their income, and have suffered from depression as a result believe that these problems in their lives are connected with the war. However, positive life events — a new job, increased income, good mood, and family well-being — do not affect the level of support for the war.
As time passes, respondents' belief that the war in Ukraine will end sooner than six months to a year has decreased, while the prolongation of the conflict also has a negative effect on Russians’ opinions of the "special military operation".
In the “Chronicles” project survey, answers to the direct question "Do you support the Russian military operation on the territory of Ukraine?" demonstrated a positive attitude towards the war among 60-65% of respondents in the spring and summer. In comparison, in autumn, this share of results had dropped to 55% (at this time there was also an option of refusing to answer the question). The question of whether these answers to such a critical question are valid under conditions of dictatorship and wartime is the subject of constant debate. With this in mind, the analysts of the "Chronicles" project have attempted to identify a core of support for the "military operation", dissociating it from those who give more of a socially approved or normative answer. The criterion for this selection was the respondents' readiness to contribute to the "military operation" in one way or another: to personally participate in it, to donate money to equip the army, etc., as well as the tendency to link some personal benefit to its success.
By adopting this approach, the authors of the research have identified that the core of support is currently 30-38%.
Russian Field used other methods to reduce the distorting influence of the overall opinion climate. First, in addition to the direct question about supporting the war, respondents were asked a projective question about whether they would cancel the decision to start a special operation if it was possible to go back in time. If, in response to the direct question about support for the special operation, the proportion of those in favour was quite stable — about 70% — the proportion of those who were convinced of the need for war (i.e. they would not undo the decision to start it) fluctuated at around 55% in the summer, and dropped to 51% in the September opinion poll.
Two other projective questions asked respondents whether they would support Vladimir Putin's decision to start a new offensive against Kyiv and whether they would support his decision to end the military operation and sign a peace agreement. The intersection of the distributions of answers to these two questions allow us to identify three groups: those who would support the attack on Kyiv and would not support the signing of a peace agreement ("war party"); those who would support both decisions ("conformists"); and those who would not support the offensive and would support the cessation of the "special operation" ("peace party"). The analysis showed that in July, the "peace party" and the "war party" were of roughly the same size — about 25% of respondents in each group. Their ratio changed at the end of September, as the "peace party" had increased insignificantly, while the "war party" had decreased dramatically. This appears to be in line with the latest data from the "Levada-Center", which indicated a significant increase in the proportion of peace-negotiation supporters in September and October.
Dynamics of the three parties' attitudes towards the war, according to Russian Field, % of the number of respondents
Thus, although we cannot be sure that opinion polls give us a fully accurate snapshot of public sentiment since critically-minded citizens are most likely less willing to participate in them, the available data from the "Levada-Center," Russian Field, and "Chronicles" give us a fairly consistent picture and allow us to draw the following conclusions.
The question of support for the war remains highly politically sensitive, and therefore, the level of this support in respondents' answers strongly depends on the wording of the questions and the survey format. The level of support peaked in late March and April and began to gradually decline in late summer and autumn. Younger generations, as well as those with a low-income and women, are the least likely to support the war. The most critical factor of non-support is using social media as a source of information. The core of convinced war supporters is much smaller, while a significant part of this support is of a conformist nature, tied to respondents' trust in the country's leadership. Time is working against the war: respondents' expectations regarding their financial situation and economic prospects are deteriorating, and the support for military operations in Ukraine is decreasing along with them.