16.11.23 Polls Review

Anti-War Drift: Loyalty to the war is being eroded among the young and economically Disadvantaged

An anti-war drift is palpable in Russian public opinion, marking a gradual decline in support for the war, not just among the young but also among the economically disadvantaged. A recent survey conducted by Russian Field highlights a slow demobilisation trend and growing weariness of the ongoing conflict, which is particularly evident in the October round of polling. Indirect queries regarding the rationale underpinning the war or the merit of pursuing peace talks show a surge in those who want the war to end, deeming it futile. Almost a third of respondents now support the withdrawal of Russian troops as a means to end the conflict. Further, a significant share of respondents indicate a prevailing anti-war sentiment within their social circles. Approximately a third claim their circles predominantly oppose the war, with another 8% stating that opinion is evenly divided. Notably, 12% could not answer this question definitively. Despite the stability of the front, the share of those who consider the course of the ‘special operation’ unsuccessful and those who do not trust the official information about the development of events has slightly increased since the summer. This shift in societal perception signifies a normalisation of the conflict in public consciousness. Despite events in Ukraine drawing less attention and emotional involvement, the number of mobilised fervent patriots is shrinking while the number of passively discontented individuals is expanding.

The recent survey conducted by Russian Field in October clearly reveals this trend, which initially surfaced during the June round of the survey. However, when interpreting these public opinion polls in today's Russia we need to acknowledge potential data biases given the context of repression and respondents' low trust in the public sphere. In this situation, the data dynamics — changes in comparison with previous measurements — rather than absolute distributions of supporters of one or another point of view seem to be of the utmost significance.

Back in June, the shares of respondents in favour of continuing the ‘special operation’ and in favour of a transition to negotiations were equal: 44 to 45%. In contrast to the Levada Center polls, where the share of supporters of peaceful negotiations was significantly higher, in the Russian Field sample supporters of war had previously dominated. In the October poll, the share of those in favour of a transition to negotiations significantly exceeded the share of those in favour of continuing the war: 48% to 39%. In the last Levada Center poll this ratio was 56 to 37%, i.e. the shares of those in favour of continuing the war identified by both companies was almost identical, but in Russian Field a much larger number of those surveyed avoided giving a direct answer.

If a peace agreement to stop the war were signed by Putin 'tomorrow', 74% of Russian Field respondents would support it. While the increase from July remains marginal at 2%, compared to January, it is an increase of 8-points. The last time it reached this level was in early October 2022 in the midst of setbacks on the frontline and the announcement of mobilisation.

The share of those surveyed who would support the reversal of the decision to start the 'military operation' has also gradually increased. This question subtly reflects respondents' current views on the war's necessity. The Russian Field surveys indicate a decline from 56% who initially supported the war to 49%, with the last two surveys indicating that 35% of those surveyed would annul the 'special operation'. In the latest Levada survey, 41% would reverse the decision to start the war, while 43% would not.

Russian Field previously asked respondents to choose between three scenarios: a new offensive, maintaining current positions, or the withdrawal of troops. In the most recent round of the survey, respondents were asked to express their views on each scenario separately. Remarkably, support for the withdrawal of troops stood at 32%, a significant shift in the perception of the war. Moreover, 18% would definitely support the withdrawal of troops, 14% would most likely support it, 35% would definitely not support it, and a further 17% would most likely not support it. 47% of young people would support the withdrawal of troops. Those aged over 45 and respondents with a high level of income are the least likely to support the withdrawal of troops.

The perception of the social context of the war is also gradually changing. 47% of those surveyed stated that the majority of those within their circle support the ‘special operation’, while 33% said that their circle does not support it (54% among young people), and another 8% believes that the number of those who oppose and support the war is equal among their close group (this was, however, a majority among those with low incomes). Over 40% of those surveyed no longer perceive a 'loyal majority' within their inner circles, with 50% now distrusting official information regarding the war, surpassing those who trust government sources at 44%. This scepticism has increased by 5 percentage points since June. Here the same socio-demographic profile is also evident, as young people and those with a low income are the least inclined to trust official information (61-66%), while among older and more wealthy respondents this is just 40%. Despite the relatively stable situation on the frontlines, the number of those who believe that the ‘military operation’ is unsuccessful has increased by 4 percentage points (up to 25%) since June. This is probably more a symptom of general fatigue than a response to any specific news event. 

Generally speaking, a majority of those surveyed oppose a new round of mobilisation, with 58% against it, notably including over 60% of those with average or below-average income along with 77% of young respondents. Even Putin's hypothetical personal endorsement of mobilisation fails to significantly alter this ratio (53% against 38%).

Thus, the declining support evident in Russian Field's survey results appears more pronounced than in the latest Levada Center poll, and very definitely draws out the dependence of this support not only on age, but also on material wealth, which was a much less noticeable pattern in all previous measurements.