12.10.23 Polls Review

Military Burnout: Attention to the fighting in Ukraine and the level of patriotic feeling have hit their lowest levels since the start of the war

While the level of declarative support for the 'Special Military Operation' (SMO) among respondents remains at previous levels, attention to the military action and concern about the Ukrainian counteroffensive have reached historical lows, according to the results of the latest survey by the Levada Center. The emotional background of perceptions of the conflict has significantly shifted in recent months, with the balance between negative and positive emotions towards the war in September standing at 71% to 47% (compared to 64% to 56% in July). Tolerance for anti-war protests has also seen a slight increase. Thus, although the surveys demonstrate a consistently high level of loyalty among participants towards both the SMO and the government more generally since the start of the war, respondents appear more demobilised and indifferent to these than they did a year ago. A certain degree of emotional engagement still persists, thanks to older generations and masculine stereotypes that view war as the norm.

For the second consecutive month, less than half of those surveyed (48%) say they are following the situation in Ukraine, as indicated by a survey conducted by the Levada Center in September. This represents a new and historic low in terms of the levels of interest. This reaction reflects a decrease in Russians' concern about the Ukrainian counteroffensive. Throughout 2022, Russian interest in the war remained at 55-56% and never dropped below 51%. In July, this figure rose to 59%, marking the peak of tension associated with the expectations of a counteroffensive and the Prigozhin crisis. However, it has now dropped to the low level it stands at today. When asked directly by sociologists, 'Are you concerned about the Ukrainian counteroffensive?' 62% answered affirmatively, compared to 67% in March.

Other indicators related to attitudes towards the war remain at the levels consistently seen in Levada surveys. When asked directly about their support for the actions of the Russian army, 73% responded positively in September; indeed, this was, on average, 73% over the past six months. Over 40% fully support the actions of the armed forces (42% on average over the last six months). At the beginning of the war, from March to September 2022, an average of 48% of those surveyed fully supported these actions. When asked whether hostilities should continue or if it is time to move to peace talks, the share of those surveyed who are in favour of ending the hostilities significantly outnumbers those who support continuing the war, with 51% for peace talks and 39% against. This result is fairly typical. In May 2023, there was a slight predominance of those who supported continuing the war, following the capture of Bakhmut (48% compared to 45% who were against).

There has been a slight change in societal attitudes toward the war, particularly when it comes to the emotions it evokes among respondents. The option 'pride in Russia' was chosen by approximately 50% of those surveyed in 2022, but this figure has now dropped to 38% in the latest survey. Options 'anger, outrage' and 'Shame' were chosen by an average of 16% of respondents in previous rounds of the survey, but in the latest survey, this had risen to 20%. In September, as before, one third of respondents experienced 'worry, fear, horror.' A significant gender gap is evident when it comes to the emotions evoked by the war: negative emotions were mentioned by 91% of women, while positive emotions were mentioned by only 38%; among men, 52% noted negative emotions and 56% felt positive emotions. Thus, the masculine paternalistic stereotype that views war as the norm remains significant in attitudes toward the war. In general, the balance between negative and positive emotions towards the war in September stood at 71% to 47% (compared to 64% to 56% in July).

The war-related social shift, known as the 'rally around the flag' effect, is also reflected in Russians' attitudes towards protests with economic and political demands. As seen in the charts below, since July 2018 (following the announcement of pension reform), an average of 31% of those surveyed believed that economic protests were possible, with 25% expressing a willingness to participate. However, there has been a sharp decline in protest potential since the full-scale invasion of Ukraine. From March 2022 to September 2023, an average of 18% considered economic protests likely in their locality, and only 16% were willing to participate in such protests. When it comes to political protests, the decline is even more pronounced. During the first period (from July 2018 to February 2022), an average of 29% of those surveyed considered this type of protest possible, with 19% willing to participate in them. Since the start of the war, these figures have halved, falling to 16% and 11%, respectively.

Potential for protests with economic demands, 1994-2023, % of those surveyed

Potential for protests with political demands, 1994-2023, % of those surveyed

Despite generally low levels of willingness to engage in protests, there has been an increase in tolerance for anti-war protests: a year ago, 38% of people surveyed condemned them, but now this is only 32%. Among young people (those under 39 years old), around 20% approve of prosecuting protesters, while among pensioners this figure is twice as high. Approximately half of Russians surveyed, 51% (down from 57% a year ago), agree that the authorities should not restrict the freedom of speech of those participating in anti-war rallies, while about a third (35%) believe that the authorities should suppress anti-war demonstrations.

How do you feel about those who attended anti-war protests after the start of the SMO? 2022-2023, % of those polled

Thus, although the surveys demonstrate a consistently high level of loyalty to the 'Special Military Operation' and the government as a whole since the start of the war, respondents appear more demobilised and indifferent than they did a year ago. Both attention to the war and the patriotic emotions associated with it are waning. However, some emotional involvement has continued to be maintained, particularly among older generations and those who adhere to masculine stereotypes.

The reliability of these survey results under conditions of war and repression continues to be a subject of debate among sociologists. Extreme conditions may increasingly lead individuals with oppositional views to refrain from participating in surveys. However, even in such cases, the surveys provide insights into shifts and trends in respondents' attitudes.