03.11.23 Polls Review

‘Withdraw the troops and return the territories': A Levada Center poll indicates that, in Russia, this formula for peace is predominantly opposed by pensioners and television viewers

In October, 56% of those surveyed by the Levada Center expressed support for transitioning to peace talks, marking the highest level of support since November 2022. A decision by Putin to end the war would garner support from 70% of those surveyed, and among the younger generations, this rises to 80%. However, if Putin were to decide to end the war and return the 'annexed' territories to Ukraine, supporters of such a decision would decrease by half to 34%, while opponents would rise to 56%. Notably, almost half (44%) of those who oppose the return of the occupied territories are pensioners, and more than two-thirds are those who primarily get their information from television, and they are likely to change their views in line with shifts in television coverage. The issue here is that this particular demographic of retired television viewers aligns with President Putin's political agenda. At the same time, nearly a quarter of those surveyed are unable to specify the goals of the war in Ukraine. Behind the facade of loyalist approval for the actions of Russian troops (which remains at 75%), there emerges a complex picture of distrust and disapproval, especially among younger generations, a lack of understanding (including among 'ordinary Russians'), the influence of propaganda (primarily in the older age groups), and war fatigue.

The number of Russians who support peace negotiations reached its peak in October, according to the Levada Center's survey. This view is shared by 56% of those surveyed, while 37% support the continuation of military activities. This distribution mirrors the findings from exactly one year ago, in October 2022, at the height of mobilisation. Subsequently, from November 2022 to July 2023, the number of supporters of continued military action averaged at 42%, and the percentage of those who supported negotiations was 51%.

Young Russians (aged 18-24), who consistently express the most peace-oriented views in all surveys, are the most fervent supporters of initiating peace talks, with 69% in favour of negotiations and 23% supporting the continuation of military activities. In the next age group, those aged 25-39, 29% support the continuation of military activities, but those who support negotiations outnumber them by more than twofold (64%). Even among the most conservative age group, those aged 55 and above, supporters of continued warfare are a minority, with 45% in favour and 46% against continued hostilities. Notably, the majority of those who support continuing the war can be found among television viewers, individuals who rely on television as their primary information source (45%). The audience of Z-bloggers on Telegram tend to support the war (41%), and the lowest level of support is found among those who obtain their information from social media and YouTube channels (around 30%).

The picture becomes more complicated when the question involves the conditions and circumstances for ending military operations. If the decision to end the war came from Vladimir Putin, 70% would support it. Among those aged 18-39, this figure rises to over 80%, and even among television viewers and older age categories, over 60% would be in favour of such a decision. However, if Putin were to decide not only to end the war but also to return the occupied territories to Ukraine, this decision would be supported by an average of only 34% of those surveyed, with 56% opposing such a decision. However, the breakdown by age groups makes the picture less straightforward than it might seem at first glance.

Among the youngest respondents (18-24 years old), 50% would support such a decision, while 28% would oppose it, with 22% remaining undecided. Support for war in any form is generally unpopular among young people. Looking at the combined age group of 18-39 years (which makes up 37% of the Russian population), the ratio is nearly equal: 41% in favour of returning the occupied territories and 44% against. In the next age group, those aged 40-54, those against such a decision are in the clear majority, with 38% supporting the return of territories and 53% opposing it. Only among the oldest age group (which also constitutes 37% of the population) is there nearly a threefold majority in favour of territorial conquests: 66% against 25%. (Among television viewers and Putin's supporters, supporters outnumber opposition two to one: 60% to 30%.) Generally speaking, among those opposed to the return of the occupied territories, almost half (44%) are over 55 years old, and more than two-thirds (67%) claim to get their news from television.

Thus, if Russian troops are withdrawn from the occupied territories of Ukraine, most of the discontent will be concentrated in the last two strongly overlapping categories — among pensioners and television viewers. But if Putin, followed by television and the entire propaganda machine, defends such a decision, the number of those within this group who are opposed to the return of territories would plummet. However, the problem lies in the fact that President Putin himself belongs to this category and reflects the disposition of a retired television viewer in his political program.

In October, the Levada Centre asked respondents for the second time a question that Russian Field has been asking since the beginning of the war: What would you do if you had the opportunity to go back in time and either cancel or support the invasion of Ukraine? 43% would support the decision to invade Ukraine (compared to 48% in May 2023), while 41% would cancel it (compared to 39% in May). In the responses to this question, we see roughly the same distributions across age and information source groups as in the previous question: 51% of those in the oldest age group would support the decision to go to war no matter what, and this figure is 48% among television viewers. Interestingly, even among those who say they approve of Putin as president, only 50% would support a 'special operation', 35% would go back in time and cancel it, and 15% were undecided. As we can see, there is almost no category of respondents where more than half would support a retroactive decision to invade Ukraine, indicating that the reasons and objectives of the invasion remain somewhat unclear to Russians.

In February 2023 and in the latest October wave of the survey, the Levada Center asked respondents about the objectives of the war. The table below presents the distribution of responses in a format that allows for easy comparison. As we can see, the most popular explanation is that the aggression is seen as a preventive defensive war, where the confrontation with Ukraine is interpreted as an episode in a long-term standoff with the West, which has a constant goal of defeating Russia. However, the most significant change over the past eight months has been the decrease in the number of those who support this explanation, dropping from 40% to 33%. Meanwhile, the percentage of those who could not articulate the objectives of the war has increased slightly over this time period. Among the youngest age group, this has risen to 38%. Interestingly, the war remains unclear to those who might be referred to as 'ordinary Russians': about a third of respondents with average or below-average education (35%) and those with limited financial means (only enough money for food, 31%) were unable to articulate the objectives of the war.

Objectives of the 'special military operation', 2023, % of those surveyed

Thus, behind the facade of loyalist approval of the actions of the Russian armed forces (which still enjoys support from 75% of those surveyed), a contradictory picture of distrust and disapproval (mainly among younger generations), misunderstanding (including among 'ordinary Russians'), propaganda (mainly among older age groups) and war fatigue emerges.