04.04.23 Polls Review

General Demobilisation: Russian society is paying less attention to the war in Ukraine and support for the ‘special operation’ continues to wane

According to the latest survey by the Levada Center, there was a decline in support for the war in March, as figures dropped from 79% to 72%. These figures mark a return to levels of support last seen in September and December 2022. However, it would be premature to consider this change as a consistent trend. As we have witnessed in past polls, there is a considerable difference in the level of support between the youngest and oldest age groups: this gap has averaged over 20 percentage points throughout the year. Additionally, the survey found that there is a slightly higher number of respondents who favour a transition to peace talks than those who support continued hostilities. Those who do not support the war are much less likely to hear and participate in war-related discussions, even among their close acquaintances, and they are also twice as likely to avoid having informal conversations about the war in public settings than those who support the war.

According to the Levada Center's March survey, there has been a slight decline in support for ‘the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine’ across all age groups. The percentage of respondents who definitively support the war decreased from 48% in February to 41%, while 31% still most-likely support it (this figure is unchanged from February), and 20% do not support the war (up from 17% in February). The overall level of support for the war stood at 72% in March, down from 79% in February. Although this decline may seem significant, it does not necessarily indicate a trend, as a similar decline was also observed in the Levada Center's September (during the announcement of the ‘partial mobilisation’) and December polls. It is important to note that the Levada Center conducts face-to-face surveys, which typically yield higher levels of support than the telephone polls conducted by independent projects such as Chronicles and Russian Field.

Those who rely on television as their primary source of news (79%), approve of the president's actions (81%), and are older (79%) tend to demonstrate the highest levels of support for the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. On the other hand, young people (58% of respondents aged 18-24), women (68%), and those who do not trust any news sources (62%) tend to have lower levels of support. This pattern has also been observed in other surveys. Additionally, over the course of the war year, a significant age gap has been observed, with a 21 percentage point difference in levels of support between respondents in the 18-24 year old group (61%) and those aged 55+ (82%).

The attention paid to war-related news has dropped to the low level recorded in August 2022. After a surge in September, which was linked to mobilisation efforts, attention levels gradually began to wane. In March 2023, only 53% of respondents reported following the situation closely or very carefully, compared to 66% in September 2022. This decline in interest has been particularly evident among respondents in younger age groups (18-39 years old), with approximately 25% of respondents stating that they do not follow ‘the situation in Ukraine’ at all. However, this age group also has the lowest levels of support for the war, and their detachment may reflect a range of attitudes — from a lack of interest in learning about the war to a reluctance to engage in discussions about it. The fear of general mobilisation has also decreased from 65-66% in October-November to 57% in March.

According to the Levada Center, the issue of peace talks continues to divide Russian society, with 48% of respondents in favour and 42% against them as of March. There have been no significant changes since September 2022 when it comes to opinions on this issue. As is often the case, the younger generation (61% of the 18-24 age group), those with oppositional views (75%), and women (55%) are more likely to take a pacifist position. However, even among Putin’s supporters and older individuals, there is no consensus on this issue. Supporters of both continuing the war and engaging in peace negotiations are almost equally split within these groups, with 46% and 43% in favour of each, respectively.Further, respondents were asked about their willingness to discuss the topic of the war. In general, politics features prominently among issues that respondents are likely to discuss with their family and friends, but it does not top the list, according to 22% of those surveyed. Topics such as children (39%), work (35%), household matters (29%), and goods and prices (28%) top the list. In the 1990s, politics was noted as a popular topic by 25-28% of respondents to a similar survey, while in the mid-2010s, this figure was 14-16%. When asked whether they discuss the ‘special operation’ and participate in discussions on this topic with their inner circle, 46% of respondents answered affirmatively.

At the same time, the study revealed that 53% of those who support the war engage in war-related conversations with their family and friends, compared to only 29% of those who are opposed to the war. Of those who do not support the war, 52% stated that they do not hear such conversations taking place around them and 19% said that they hear these conversations but do not participate in them. Among the war’s supporters, the figures stood at 38% and 13%, respectively. This indicates that among those who support the war, 65% are exposed to war-related discussions, while among non-supporters, only 48% are. However, when it comes to participating in casual conversations about the war in a public setting, only 14% of respondents are willing to do so. Interestingly, among war-supporters, this number rises to 16%, while among non-supporters, it stands at just 9%. Thus, despite the generally low level of willingness among Russians to engage in such conversations in public, among those who support the war, this willingness is twice as high. This highlights the so-called ‘spiral of silence’ phenomenon that is present in Russian society, whereby individuals who do not support the war are less likely to engage in conversations about it, both with those in their inner circle and in public places. Ultimately, this ends up distorting the true picture of public opinion regarding the war.