10.05.23 Polls Review

Anticipating the Counteroffensive: Public Opinion Surveys Suggest Concern and Unfocused Negativity about the War, but Not Even Electronic Summonses Have Provoked Outrage

Although the level of support for the war has stagnated in recent Levada Center polls, a hint of unease is palpable in public opinion. At the end of April, 62% of respondents expressed a concern about the expected Ukrainian counteroffensive, while 52% believed that the most difficult tests of the war were yet to come. Fatigue and demobilised support are evident in respondents' reasons for concern. For the second month in a row, the percentage of those in favour of commencing peace talks has risen, while the percentage of those in favour of continuing hostilities has decreased (51% vs. 38%). At the same time, even the law on ‘electronic summonses’ and the restrictions on ‘draft dodgers’ was unable to provoke consolidated outrage. 69% of respondents were aware of the law, and this figure rose to over 80% among users of online media, social networks and Telegram channels. Approximately 30% of respondents viewed the law in a clearly negative light, another 15% can be described as holding 'unfocused' negative sentiments ('shock' and 'dismay'), 20% had a positive view of the law, while a further 30% of responses indicated that they had no opinion at all or found it difficult to answer. Thus, while a negative attitude to this news dominates (45% of responses), there is no shared indignation on the part of the silent, indifferent and ‘tolerant’, whose attitude to the law remains unfocused.

In response to a direct question about their support for the war, responses remained in the typical range of 71%-77% (75% in the case of this particular poll) for Levada's measurements, according to the April poll conducted by the Levada Center. The dominant motives used to justify support were a series of patriotic commitments — ‘our cause is right, for Russia, patriotism, we must finish what we started’ (about a quarter of all responses), the idea of ‘inverse security’ — ‘push back NATO, protect our borders so that there is no war on our territory’ (21% of responses), the narrative of ‘Nazis/Benderites’ (14%), and the ‘protection of the residents of Donbas’ (14% for each option).

At the same time, there has been no decrease in the level of attention and concern paid to the situation in Ukraine. Respondents' concern is connected to sympathy for the Ukrainian population — death of civilians and children there, destruction of cities (22%); another large group is concerned about ‘the war itself’ (15%) and its protracted nature (14%); fewer respondents (11%) highlighted motives for concern related to the death of Russian soldiers and sympathy for ‘our boys’. 62% of respondents were concerned about a possible counteroffensive by the Ukrainian army (this is a separate question). Older respondents and others who rely on TV and online media as their main source of news were more concerned about the offensive (65-67%), which may suggest that this fear is being transmitted to them via TV. For 77% of respondents, the supply of Western arms to Ukraine is a cause for concern. These fears are also more typical among the most loyal ‘TV’ contingents.

A new important question added to the Levada Center's questionnaire is whether people still anticipate the main difficulties associated with the ‘special military operation’ or whether these are already behind them. More than half of the respondents (52%) believe that the main difficulties still lie ahead, 27% think that Russia is facing them now, and 10% are convinced that the worst is already behind them. The first and most mainstream opinion is predominantly shared by older respondents, as well as by the most informed and the most opposition-minded groups. We also believe that this result reflects the tensions surrounding the anticipated Ukrainian counteroffensive.

As a result, this is the second month in a row in which the proportion of respondents in favour of starting peace talks has risen, while the proportion in favour of continuing military action has fallen (51% vs. 38%). As the graph shows, this ratio has not reached its October peak (57% vs. 36%), but it is moving in that direction. Around 60% of young people (18-39 years old) and women are in favour of peace negotiations. Even among Putin's supporters the percentage is now as high as 48%, and has reached 70% among those who do not support the president.

In your opinion, should we continue military action or should we begin peace negotiations?

Generally speaking, it is possible to infer that the level of concern about the prospects of the war has increased in anticipation of a Ukrainian counteroffensive, and that the reasons for concern reflect a certain weariness and general demoralisation of support. These under-represented attitudes may increase or fade depending on the information background of the war.

56% of those polled believe that a new wave of mobilisation is likely to take place within the next three months; this figure rises to 62% among younger cohorts, according to the survey. 69% of respondents are aware of the register of conscripts, the law on ‘electronic summonses’ and the new measures introduced against ‘draft dodgers’. Those who get their information from the Internet, social networks and Telegram channels are the most aware of these topics — 80-83% (this figure stands at 66% among TV viewers). The most widespread emotional reaction to the law is ‘anxiety, fear, indignation and shame’, i.e. active rejection. This accounted for 30% of responses (respondents could have given more than one response, so we present normalised data from the total number of responses). A further 14% of respondents described their attitude to these introductions as ‘shock, depression, numbness’ — this can be classed as unfocused negativity. Positive emotions — ‘pride in Russia, satisfaction, enthusiasm’ — accounted for 21% of responses. A further31% of people said they had no emotion to this news or found it difficult to answer. 

Thus, negative attitudes to the new law prevail (44% of responses), but this does not translate to any kind of mobilisation of active negativity or readiness to protest.

Attitudes towards the law on electronic summonses and restrictions for 'draft dodgers’, % of respondents