09.02 Polls Review

Three majorities: Russians continue to support military action in Ukraine, but consider the cost too high and are leaning towards peace talks

Support for the war among Russian residents remains consistently high: according to a January poll conducted by the Levada Centre, about three quarters of Russians still approve of the actions of the Russian armed forces in Ukraine. The information and demographic profile of support remains unchanged: as it has been throughout the two years of the war, today its supporters are noticeably more among older people who get their information from television (at the opposite end we see minimal support among the younger audience of YouTube). At the same time, a noticeably lower level of approval for military action is observed among those population groups that experts typically consider as the backbone of Putin's regime — less educated respondents with low economic status, living in small towns and villages. The willingness of the poorest category of the population to participate in protests with political demands is twice as high as the overall level of protest sentiment in the sample as a whole (16% and 8%, respectively). However, support for the war itself suggests a certain 'doublethink' - the 'loyalty majority' is not the only majority that the polling data allow us to identify: just over half of those surveyed by the Levada Centre are in favour of a shift to peace negotiations, while almost three quarters believe that Russia is paying too high a price for the war.

At first glance, the new polling data from the Levada Centre generally demonstrates a remarkably stable attitude among Russians towards the war. The support figures for the actions of Russian troops in response to the corresponding direct question still range between 72% and 77%, with a very slow downward trend in the number of those who 'definitely support' the actions (for more on this and why Levada Centre polls have higher figures than other polling projects, see the Re:Russia analysis on 'Second Demobilisation'). However, this support suggests a degree of 'doublethink': since the autumn of 2022, an average of 40% of those surveyed have consistently (with slight fluctuations) supported a continuation of military action (roughly the same number as those who 'definitely support' military action in response to the first question), while an average of 52% supported a transition to to peace talks.

After almost two years of war, the socio-demographic profile of these two groups appears equally stable. Supporters of the war in Ukraine and its continuation are most prevalent in the older age group and are found least among young people. Another important indicator is the media consumption profile, with consumers of television propaganda content (49% support the continuation of military actions) on one end and those watching YouTube channels (33% support the continuation of military actions) on the other. The YouTube audience also stands out significantly regarding the question of the moral responsibility of Russians for the death of civilians in Ukraine: while among consumers of other sources of information from television to Telegram channels about 30% feel responsible and more than 60% do not feel responsible, among the YouTube audience, 45% of respondents feel responsible while 47% do not feel responsible. These differences — between the young and informed versus the elderly and 'zombified' - have been characteristic of public opinion polls in Russia since the second half of the 2010s.

However, less attention is paid to another group of sceptics. There is a noticeably lower level of support for the war among population groups that experts tend to view as a potential support base of the Putin regime — the less educated, those living in small towns, and those with lower incomes. For example, among respondents with less than secondary education, 65% are in favour of a transition to peace negotiations, while among those with higher education only 46% support this. Support for the continuation of the war is strongest in Moscow and in cities with a population of more than 500,000 people — 56% and 41%, respectively — and lowest in small towns and villages, at 35-36%. 

The same observations can be applied to the fact that, according to the survey data from January 2024, the largest share of those who are personally willing to take part in protests with political demands can be found among the economically poorer category of the population: while only 8% of all respondents are ready to protest and 89% are not ready to protest, 16% of those in the group with 'barely enough money for food' expressed a readiness to participate in protests. 

In this same group of respondents, the highest level of support for the return of relatives from the 'Special Military Operation zone' can be found. The corresponding question was asked for the first time by sociologists at the end of January 2024. Only 10% of respondents are well-informed about these protests, 33% have ‘heard something’, and 56% claimed to be hearing about it for the first time. Across the sample as a whole, 29% tend to view the protests by mobilised wives positively, while 21% tend to view them more negatively. However, among those who are well informed about the movement, support stands at 64%, while among those who have only 'heard something' it is 37% (compared to 15% who disapprove of the protests). The same applies to the proportion of those who view these protests positively among the economically disadvantaged ('Struggling to afford food') at 38%, and among rural residents this stands at 35%.

Since June 2023, the share of those who believe that the situation in Ukraine may escalate into an armed conflict between Russia and NATO has significantly decreased. Last summer, 60% of respondents expressed such a probability, but in January of this year this had fallen to 44%. This is undoubtedly due to the failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and the reduction of fears associated with it, as well as a decrease in the mobilisation rhetoric used in the Russian official media. 

Generally speaking, a stable share of Russians in the Levada Centre’s sample, ranging from 22-24% from January 2023 to January 2024, agree that Russia 'made a mistake by launching the special military operation' (among the YouTube audience this figure is 40%), while two-thirds of respondents do not share this opinion. The January report from the Levada Centre also includes a temporal trend line for responses to the question 'Do you agree that Russia is paying too high a price for its participation in the special military option?', which has not been published before. Since January 2023, nine measurements have been taken, and the baseline level of agreement with this statement is about 65%, with peaks in July and September-October reaching 73-83%.

In times of wartime and repression, polls may not accurately reflect the real mood, and this possibility should always be kept in mind. The opinions of those who are within the line of sight of pollsters, as we can see, changes little. The lowest support for the war is observed among the young, media-savvy, and economically disadvantaged. Moreover, declarative support for military action (the first majority — 74%) coexists with the desire for it to come to an end (the second majority — 52%) and the opinion that Russia is paying too high a price for it (the third majority — 70%).