'If a worthy candidate who shares your views emerged among the presidential candidates, would you vote for them or for Vladimir Putin?' - this was the key question in a mid-May poll on the upcoming presidential elections, conducted by the independent company Russian Field.
Under the conditions of autocracy, citizens do not have the opportunity to choose between alternative candidates, and this wording is aimed at gauging the potential desire for a change in leadership and political course. 45% of respondents expressed their willingness to vote for a new person, while 43% stated that they would still prefer Putin. Essentially, society is divided in two in their responses. Putin retains a significant support base but does not have a stable supermajority. Among men, the preference for a new leader is noticeably higher — 52% compared with 34%. Among those aged 18-29, 61% of those surveyed are in favour of a new president, while among those over 60, 57% express support for Putin. A similar percentage of television viewers support him, while 60% of Telegram readers are in favour of a new person in the Kremlin. This paints a picture of stable information and age polarisation that is observed in the majority of surveys conducted in Russia.
In the next question, sociologists offered respondents the chance to toss a coin: if it landed on heads, the next president would be better than the incumbent, if it was tails, worse, and if they chose not to play, everything would remain as it is. The aim of this was to determine the extent of voter fatigue and the proportion of those who are guided by the principle of 'Anyone but Putin.' 67% of respondents chose not to play such a game and preferred to leave everything as it is, while 29% would not mind changing Putin for anyone else. And that is by no means a small proportion of respondents. Once again, among young people, 1 in 2 (49%) would like to replace Putin with anyone else. Among men and supporters of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, this was 35%, and among those who do not believe in the fairness of Russian elections, it was 43%.
In the third question, respondents were asked to nominate anyone, even themselves, as a rival to Putin in the next elections. To this question, 30% chose Putin, while another third named some other candidate, but none of these, except Prigozhin and Navalny, garnered more than 2%. Another 30% found it difficult or refused to answer. Among men and those who read Telegram channels, less than a quarter were sincere supporters of Putin — 23-24%, and among respondents aged 18-29, this figure was 18%.
Thus, 30% of respondents would wholeheartedly prefer to keep the unchanging Putin as their leader, while 30% would be willing to vote for anyone but him, and the votes would be evenly split if Putin faced another strong and well-positioned candidate.
However, 66% of those surveyed found it entirely or somewhat acceptable for a president to hold office for more than two consecutive terms, while only 31% viewed this as wrong. If the presidential elections of 2024 were to be cancelled, 43% of respondents would respond negatively, 21% positively, and 30% would be neutral. Additionally, 43% know when the presidential elections are scheduled to take place, while 44% do not know, and another 12% provided incorrect dates when asked. Finally, 49% of those polled believe that elections in their region are conducted fairly, while 39% hold the opposite view.
The responses to this group of questions show that elections and electoral procedures themselves do not greatly interest Russians. Regional elections in Russia, of course, are conducted unfairly, but respondents do not attach much significance to these, do not associate them with any hopes, and are therefore not interested in the procedural side of things. In response to this pool of questions, an interest in elections was demonstrated by a stable group of slightly over 40% of respondents. However, even among younger age groups, the number of those interested does not increase significantly, only slightly shifting towards the 50% benchmark.
31% of respondents were unable to name a political party that best represents their interests, while another 25% said that such a party does not exist. When asked to expand the list of parties to include nonexistent, hypothetical ones, the number of 'refusals' (answers such as 'I find it difficult to answer' or 'I will not participate in the elections') decreased from 56% to 41%.
Paradoxically, an analysis of the responses to the first group of questions about the preferred candidate reveals a weakening of Putin's leadership. At the same time, the distributions from the second group of questions regarding attitudes towards elections and parties indicate that the demand for an alternative and, consequently, for the democratisation of the regime, remains relatively low.