18.07.23 Polls Review

Militarists, the semi-war party, and the semi-peace party: sociological data allow us to identify the main groups in attitudes towards war in Russian society

Based on an analysis of data from the latest survey conducted by Russian Field, it becomes evident that there are three major groups in Russian society with differing attitudes towards the war. At the forefront stands the radical war party, which was just under 25% of those polled in early summer. The party of loyalists (40% of those surveyed) could more accurately be described as moderate supporters of war, displaying a higher sensitivity to the costs of conflict while maintaining a fundamental loyalty to the official discourse. Finally, the peace party represents a third of respondents, and these could be called moderate opponents of war.

Among the peace party, approximately 40% — equivalent to around 15% of all respondents — hold more radical positions towards the war and the Russian authorities. Compared to similar measurements in February 2023, it appears that the ranks of the pro-war party have diminished slightly , while the 'loyalist' party has grown by 8 percentage points. Notably, significant support for pro-war sentiments comes from the established social norm of masculine attitudes towards the war as the new normal among men.

Russian Field, the company responsible for conducting twelve waves of surveys on Russians' views of the 'special military operation,' periodically asks respondents two questions: would they support Vladimir Putin if he were to sign a peace agreement and halt the 'military operation' tomorrow, and would they support him if he were to announce a new offensive on Kyiv? As can be seen in the graph below, a considerable and consistent majority (approximately 70%) of respondents are willing to support Putin if he decides to sue for peace. Those unwilling to back such an approach, believing that the military operation's objectives have yet to be achieved. This group was about 30% in the spring and summer of 2022, but has decreased to 20%. At the same time, a substantial 60% of those surveyed would be ready to endorse a decision to launch an offensive on Kyiv, while the share of those who disagreed with this fluctuated between 23% to 28%, i.e. hovered close to the 25% mark. These results indicate the presence of a fairly large group of loyalists ready to support any decision of Putin.

Would you support Vladimir Putin if he signed a peace agreement tomorrow and stopped the "military operation" / announced the start of a new offensive against Kyiv? 2022–2023, % of those polled

In the latest wave of polling conducted in June, as in the previous 11th wave conducted in February, experts at Russian Field have categorised respondents into three groups: supporters of escalation, opponents of escalation, and neutrals. The first group consists of those who endorse the offensive and would not be willing to support a peace agreement. It may be more fitting to label them the 'pro-war party' as they not only favour escalation but actively oppose de-escalation. The experts classify those who support a peace agreement and disapprove of the offensive as opponents of escalation; a more suitable name for this group would be the 'peace party.' Those who are willing to support any decision made by Putin are termed neutrals by Russian Field, although 'loyalists' would be a more accurate descriptor.

Compared to the February survey, the June survey saw an increase in the proportion of loyalists from 33% to 41%, while the number of those belonging to the war party (supporters of escalation) has decreased from 27% to 23%, and the peace party has decreased from 34% to 32% (within the margin of error).

Pro-war sentiments are more prevalent among men, 33% of which align with the war party. This figure remains unchanged from February, but the share of peace supporters among men has fallen from 31% to 26%, with these individuals shifting their views towards those of the loyalists. As can be seen in the results of other polls, support for the war as a masculine imperative has become a social norm in Russia. Only 15% of women surveyed expressed pro-war attitudes. Younger age groups exhibit a more anti-war disposition (e.g. nearly half, 47%, of those aged 18–29 support peace), although the share of the peace party among this group has somewhat narrowed due to an expansion of loyalist sentiment. In contrast, there are significantly more war supporters among older age groups, but their party has also shrunk since February.

Income levels have a weak influence on attitudes toward the war, although a slightly higher percentage of those who say they will support the war until victory (27%) are found among the more economically advantaged compared to those with lower incomes (21%). Other surveys have shown that the most impoverished segments of society express stronger anti-war sentiments. Individuals with a higher level of education tend to be slightly more anti-war, while nearly half of those with lower education levels are loyalists (46%) .

When it comes to ideological inclinations and media preferences, the loyalists align with the pro-war party (supporters of escalation). Both groups believe that Russia is moving in the right direction, with 86% of the pro-war party and 89% of the loyalists agreeing with this statement, while only 37% of those who support peace share this sentiment. They also believe that the 'Special Military Operation' (SMO) is successful, (70% and 75% respectively, compared to only 29% in the peace party). Loyalists and the pro-war party trust official data on the progress of the military operation (60% and 59% respectively, compared to 22% in the peace party), experience less fatigue from war-related news (32% and 31%, versus 57%), believe that the military operation has strengthened Russia's authority (86% and 87%, versus 36%), and blame Ukraine for the destruction of the Kakhovka hydroelectric power plant (58% and 55%, versus 18%).

At the same time, on questions concerning the strategic vision of the continuation of the war, neutrals occupy an intermediate position between the war and peace parties. Approximately 32% of neutrals feel personally threatened by the war, while among war supporters, compared to 21% of supporters and 51% of opponents. Half of the loyalists (48%) are in favour of continuing the war, and slightly fewer (43%) support a transition to peace negotiations. When it comes to the pro-war party, these numbers stand at 91% and 4%, while for those who oppose the war, they are 10% and 76%. The prospect of a second wave of mobilisation shifts the balance among loyalists in favour of peace negotiations (the share of supporters rises to 57% against and 35% for the continuation of the war). However, the scenario of a new round of mobilisation reduces the share of those who wish to continue the war by 10 percentage points, even among supporters of escalation.

29% of loyalists would reverse the decision to launch the 'Special Military Operation' if they could go back in time, while only 7% of the war party and 64% of the peace party would do the same. In the current situation, 47% of loyalists believe that the Russian army should continue its offensive, while 36% think that holding captured positions is sufficient. Only 1% of loyalists support the withdrawal of troops, while among those who support peace, one in every three individuals shares this view. Moreover, 30% of those who support peace would advocate for negotiations based on maintaining the positions currently held by Russian forces.

When it comes to the use of nuclear weapons, 27% of those who support the war believe that this is a possibility, at the very least if Russia is threatened with defeat, while among loyalists, this figure stands at only 17%. Interestingly, loyalists are more focused on television as their primary source of information (44%) than those who are pro-war (38%), who tend to rely more on Telegram channels as their source of information.

Thus, the three prominent groups in Russian society can be defined as follows: the radical war party, which stands at just under 25% of those surveyed, the loyalist party (40%), more accurately described as moderate supporters of the war, and the peace party (one third of those surveyed), which represents moderate opponents of war. Approximately 40% of the peace party hold more radical positions on the war and the Russian authorities, expressing concerns about the direction in which Russia is heading.

However, it is essential to bear in mind that, during times of war and under repressive pressures, the survey sample may be skewed in favour of more loyalist segments of the population.