12.12.23 Polls Review

The Waiting Game: Russians remain loyal to the regime and the war, but the number of people who want it to end as soon as possible has grown significantly in recent months

The 'war party', which represents the portion of the Russian population which firmly supports Russia's military actions in Ukraine, is shrinking, according to survey data. Conversely, the number of people who support peace talks has been steadily growing: in November, the proportion of peace supporters reached 57% against 36% of those surveyed in favour of continuing the war. The only time such a distribution was observed before was after the announcement of 'partial mobilisation'. These sentiments persist despite growing optimism about the successes of Russian forces, whereas previously, Russians tended to lean towards negotiations during military setbacks and against them during moments of success. The growth of the 'party waiting for peace' - those passively wishing for an end to the war — can also be observed within the latest polling data from the Russian Field project. 'The party of doves', i.e. 'those who want peace', by their definition is at least 55% of those surveyed, while the 'war party', i.e. those who oppose ending the 'special military operation', even if such a decision were to be made by Putin, has decreased from 27% in February 2023 to 19% in October. Meanwhile, a third of respondents would agree to the withdrawal of Russian troops from the territories of Ukraine occupied during the 'special operation' without any conditions. However, another portion of the 'waiting party' believes that peace can be achieved through a new Russian offensive.

The latest wave of surveys by the Levada Center conducted in November continues to show the trend of eroding support for the 'pro-war party' and growing expectations for the end of the war, which Re:Russia has previously discussed. While the shares of those who support the 'special military operation' ('fully' or 'to some extent') and those who fully or to some degree do not support it remain virtually unchanged in Levada's polls — 74% versus an average of 19% since the start of the war. However, the share of those who fully support the actions of the Russian troops is gradually declining. In the first six months of the war, an average of 48% of those surveyed fully supported the 'operation', in the next nine months this was 44%, and over the past six months this figure was 41%. (It is worth noting that the level of support for the ‘special military operation’ in Levada Center polls is traditionally higher than in polling by other centres, which may be explained by the face-to-face survey methodology and the absence of cues allowing respondents to evade direct answers. Moreover, in the current climate of increased repression and hostility within the ‘climate of opinions’, surveys may contain a certain bias in favour of more loyal demographics.)

The regularities in the level of support for the war remain consistent in terms of age and where respondents look for sources of information. A noticeable increase in support begins among respondents over 40 and reaches its peak among those over 65 and those who indicated TV as their main source of information (84%). The level of support is lower among consumers of social media and Telegram channels (63-70% support, 23-25% do not support). However, over the past two months, the Levada Center sociologists have distinguished a separate group of those who name YouTube as their main source of information. Among this category there are more individuals who do not support the 'military operation': in the October survey this was 25% of those surveyed, and in the November poll it had risen to 31% (while 61% expressed their support). 

Since September 2022, the Levada Centre has been asking respondents whether they favour the continuation of hostilities or a transition to peace talks. With the exception of May 2023 (the capture of Bakhmut), the preponderance of answers to this question has always been in favour of peace talks. In recent months, their share has been growing and in October-November reached a maximum, which was observed in October 2022, immediately after the announcement of 'partial mobilisation'. As then, in November 2023, 36% of respondents supported the continuation of hostilities, while 57% were in favour of starting peace talks. Among women and respondents aged 25-39, 64% were in favour of peace talks, 66% among YouTube users, and 73% among the youngest respondents (18-24 years old). What is particularly interesting is that the increase in the share of supporters of peace talks is observed against the background of an increase in those who believe that the 'military operation' is currently developing successfully (66% lean towards this opinion). Previously, the pattern was rather reversed: the growth of aspiration for peace negotiations was observed at times of decreasing confidence in the successful course of the war, while the growth of supporters of its continuation was observed at times of higher assessments of the army's success.

Do you think the current military actions should continue or should peace talks begin? 2022-2023, % of those surveyed

The growth of passive desire for the war to end is also demonstrated by the latest segmentation of respondents based on their stance toward the ‘special military operation’ based on the data of the latest wave of the Russian Field project survey. In previous surveys by the project, sociologists used two questions for this purpose: whether the respondent would support Vladimir Putin if he signed a peace agreement tomorrow to stop the 'military operation', and whether they would support Putin if he announced the beginning of a new offensive against Kyiv. In the October wave of the survey, the first question remained unchanged, and instead of the question about an offensive on Kyiv, a new question was introduced: whether to continue the 'military operation' or transition to peace negotiations. his new question is considered fundamental: those advocating for the initiation of peace negotiations are categorised as 'doves' (48%), while those advocating for the continuation of military actions are divided into two nearly equal subgroups — those who would not support the end of the war even if Putin decided on it ('hawks,' 19%), and those who would agree to it in this case ('loyalists,' 20%).

Thus, the conditions for being classified as a 'hawk' have somewhat eased: previously, one had to not only not support Putin's decision to end the war but also to wish for an attack on the capital of Ukraine, and now it is enough to disagree with peace talks and the end of the war even if this is a result of a decision by Putin. It is particularly noteworthy that the ‘hawks’ group has significantly contracted compared to the surveys in February and June, while the ‘doves’ group has expanded significantly due to those advocating for the initiation of peace negotiations. In the first six months of the full-scale invasion, 35% of respondents polled by Russian Field supported the idea of peace talks, while 53% did not; thereafter, until June 2023, the shares of those supporting and not supporting peace talks were almost equal (44% versus 46%). In the October survey, the balance shifted sharply in favour of negotiations: 48% were for peace talks versus 39% against. In turn, the share of those who would not support a decision to end the war, even if it came from Putin, fell from 27% in the summer of last year to 19%.

Main groupings of attitudes towards war: 'hawks', 'loyalists' and 'doves', 2023, % of those surveyed

Characteristics of the main groupings of attitudes towards war, October 2023, % of those surveyed by group




Those who could not provide an answer

Consider Ukraine an undemocratic country





Wouldn't have cancelled SWO in the past if there was an opportunity to do so





Will support a new wave of mobilisation





The majority in the district is against the SMO





Thus, the faction of 'hawks' decreased from 27 to 19%, while the faction of 'doves', or, more precisely, those awaiting the end of the war, increased from 34% to 48%. Moreover, as the analysts at Russian Field note, while 'loyalists' are very similar to 'hawks' in many ways, those who find it difficult to answer (12%) are much more similar to the 'doves'. As a result, the majority in this group tends to gravitate towards the latter and can also be categorised as part of the party waiting for the end of the war.

The Russian Field sociologists also tried to find out from the respondents their views on the conditions for ending the war. However, they obtained a blurred and inconsistent picture of responses, indicating a lack of formed and stable opinions on this matter. At the same time, in response to the question ‘which options for Russia's further actions in the military operation do you support?' 60% of those surveyed supported offensive actions (which thus included not only ‘hawks’ and ‘loyalists’ but also some of those waiting for peace) and 32% supported the 'withdrawal of troops', i.e. they expressed a willingness to give up the territories seized during the 'special military operation' for the sake of peace.