29.06.23 Polls Review

Loyal but weary: A new poll indicates a gradual erosion of the dominant pro-war rhetoric in the public sphere

Public opinion in Russia regarding the war in Ukraine simultaneously demonstrates loyalty to the leadership's political decisions and a desire for conflict resolution. According to the latest wave of polling conducted by Russian Field, 64% of Russians would be willing to support a decision by Vladimir Putin to launch a new offensive against Kyiv, while 57% blame Ukraine, the United States, and Europe for the destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station. However, alongside this, only 45% of respondents are in favour of continuing the 'special operation,' while 44% advocate for a shift towards negotiations. A significant portion of those surveyed also express concerns about a new wave of mobilisation to the extent that they would be willing to abandon the continuation of the war in favour of negotiations. An increasing number of respondents now perceive the war as a mistake: a record-low share of respondents, given the hypothetical opportunity to go back in time, would not repeal the decision to start the 'special military operation' (49%), while a record-high share (35%) would choose to reverse this decision. The 'Party of Peace' continues to expand slowly, reflecting a gradual 'blurring' of the public dominance of pro-war discourse.

The results of the 12th wave of the representative telephone survey of Russians conducted by Russian Field from June 16th to 19th, 2023, on the whole indicate a high level of loyalty among respondents, which is manifested in broad support for the leadership's decisions and overwhelmingly positive assessments of the country's domestic situation. However, this could be an effect of the sample: in a highly repressive environment, the willingness of negatively inclined respondents to participate in surveys may be lower than that of loyalists. Respondents' loyalty is evident in the very high percentage of those who believe that the country is moving in the right or mostly right direction (73%) and those who are confident that conducting a 'military operation' enhances Russia's standing in the world (69%).

The demonstrative public loyalty among respondents is also evident in the question of responsibility for the destruction of the Kakhovka Hydroelectric Power Station. Only 6% attribute this responsibility to Russia, while 57% blame other parties: Ukraine, the United States, and Europe. However, 22% were undecided, and an additional 14% chose the response 'Other.'

Compared to the lows of December 2022 (50%) and even the level of February 2023 (56%), there continues to be an increase in those who view the course of the 'military operation' in Ukraine as successful (58%). The peak in this indicator was reached in May and July 2022 (60-61%), during a period when the Russian forces were advancing more significantly. The high figures today may be influenced by the echoes of a major PR campaign that glorified the achievements of the Russian army in connection with the capture of Bakhmut in May.

However, the public loyalty of Russians is most evident in their support for various decisions made by Vladimir Putin. For instance, a record number of respondents, 64%, would be willing to support Putin if he decided to launch a new offensive on Kyiv. This is the highest figure since July 2022. However, even more, 73% would be ready to support Putin if he were to sign a peace agreement tomorrow and end the war. Only 20% would not be willing to support Putin's peace initiatives. The last comparable results were recorded during a period of mobilisation in early October last year when 75% would have supported the hypothetical decision for Putin to sign a peace agreement, while just 18% would not. Interestingly, among those who watch television, 20% would not be willing to support a peace scenario, compared to 16% among those who named Internet media as their main source of information, and 26% among readers of Telegram channels. It is in Telegram where the 'party of war hawks' is now concentrated.

The desire for the war to end is also reflected in responses to the question of whether to continue the war or transition to peace negotiations. The results of the current survey correspond to the indicators observed in late autumn and early winter of 2022: citizens are almost evenly divided between those who support the continuation of the war (45%) and those who advocate for peace negotiations (44%). Among younger age groups (18-29 years old), over 60% of respondents are in favour of peace negotiations.

While the previous question showed supporters of negotiations and supporters of continuing the war were evenly divided, specifying that a second wave of mobilisation would be necessary to continue the war, makes the 'party of negotiations' into the majority (54%), while the 'party of war' becomes a clear minority (35%). Here, supporters of transitioning to negotiations prevail in all age groups. Throughout the entire history of surveys during the war, more affluent respondents have been more inclined to support the continuation of the 'military operation' even in the event of a renewed mobilisation. However, in all wealth groups, there are still more supporters of a transition to peace negotiations.

39% of respondents expressed their preference for Russian forces to continue the offensive, 30% believe that maintaining positions without further advancement is the optimal scenario, 12% boldly advocated for a withdrawal of troops, and an additional 19% were undecided or avoided giving a definitive answer.

However, loyalty among respondents falters when it comes to trusting official information about the progress of the war. Less than half of respondents are willing to trust official information (46%), while almost as many (45%) believe that it should not be trusted. Although the level of trust in official sources is slightly lower compared to figures from February, the low level of trust exists in both camps. Among those who do not trust official information, 35% believe that military action should be continued, while 57% are in favour of peace negotiations. Thus, there is distrust of official information within both factions.

It is evident that scepticism towards official information is prevalent among both supporters of the 'war party' and those who advocate for ending the hostilities. Distrust of official sources is more common among younger and middle-aged groups (18-44 years old), while the opposite is observed in those aged 45-60+, where trust in official data prevails.

Finally, the Russian Field’s projective question about the hypothetical possibility of going back in time and influencing the decision to start the war continues to reflect a slow declining trend in support for Putin's decision to initiate the war in the first place, and a rising trend in the desire to 'undo' that decision. There is a small difference in June 2023 compared to previous survey waves, but it represents the lowest percentage of those who would not undo the decision to start the 'Special Military Operation' (SMO) at 49%, and the largest share of those who would at 35%. Traditionally, younger respondents advocate for 'correcting' history and cancelling the 'special operation,' while older groups would uphold the decision made. The same pattern can be observed based on the respondents' economic well-being: poorer groups tend to support the reversal of the decision, while wealthier groups continue to support it.

If you had the opportunity to go back in time and undo the decision to start the 'military operation,' would you do it or not?, % of respondents

In general, it can be said that the 'peace party,' albeit passive, has expanded by approximately 5 percentage points compared to the 2022 measurements, among those respondents who the pollsters were able to access. It is not a significant increase, but it reflects a trend towards the 'dilution' of the public dominance of the pro-war discourse.