19.10.22 Polls Review

Despite War Fatigue, Ukrainian Society Not Polarised on Key Issue: its occupied territories must be returned

According to a new Gallup poll, 70% of Ukrainians want to continue the war with Russia until victory is achieved. A prior survey, conducted by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology, showed far more homogenous support for this issue. In the Gallup poll, significantly lower levels of support can be found among women (64%), people with no higher education (68%) and those living in the east and south of Ukraine (56-58%). At the same time, this data highlights the fact that Ukrainian society is not polarised on the question of what the overall strategy for dealing with Russia should be. It must be noted that a different survey found variations in people’s opinions on minor issues, including their attitudes towards Stepan Bandera and the de-Russification of toponyms.

A Gallup poll conducted in Ukraine in early September showed that 70% of respondents believe that Ukraine must continue the war with Russia until victory is achieved, whereas 26% believe that negotiations should begin as soon as possible in order to end the hostilities. Gallup experts note that people express higher levels of support for continuing the war the further away they are located from the actual battleground, and the opposite is also true: support is lowest in communities right near the front line. In Western Ukraine, 83% of respondents voice their support of continuing the war, whilst in the south and east, that figure stands at 56%-58% (the survey did not include Ukraine’s occupied territories). The greatest variation among socio-demographic groups can be observed in terms of gender: 76% of men support continuing the war until victory is achieved, opposed to 64% of women. The other important factor is education: 80% of respondents with a university degree support continuing the war, and among those who have a secondary education or lower the figure stands at 68%.     

When prompted to explain what they mean by "victory", 91% of respondents chose the answer 'Return all territories lost since 2014, including Crimea", 4% gave a similar answer, but did not mention Crimea, and another 5% want Ukraine to reclaim territories lost since February 2022.

Generally, the idea that 56-64% of respondents support continuing the war until victory is achieved does not seem all that convincing or "trustworthy", given the backdrop of increasingly protracted hostilities, Russian mobilisation and the upcoming winter, which Ukraine will have to face with a seriously damaged energy infrastructure grid. In any case, the situation looks somewhat less homogenous than the one described by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), which conducted its own survey in early September. Respondents were asked to choose between the following answers: "Ukraine may have to give up part of its territories in order to achieve peace and preserve its independence as soon as possible," or "Under no circumstances should Ukraine give up its territories, even if this leads to a protracted war and threatens its independence." 87% of respondents chose the second option, and according to KIIS, regional differences were insignificant. The overall percentage is also higher, with 83% of people choosing the second option in the south, 85% in the east and 91% in the west. A significant difference in answers can be found only by taking into account various linguistic and ethnic groups: for example, 57% of Russian-speaking Russian respondents support the uncompromising option, 24% are in favour of territorial concessions, and another 19% found it difficult to answer. Among Russian-speaking Ukrainians, such answers were chosen by 85%, 10% and 5% of respondents, respectively. 

The authors of the study note that the survey was carried out during the most successful phase of the Ukrainian counteroffensive in the Kharkiv region, between the 7th-13th of September. The Gallup survey ran from September 2th to 11th, meaning it was not affected by information coming from the battleground. It should also be mentioned that the counteroffensive’s effect will eventually subside. Having said that, it has substantially altered both Ukraine and Russia’s perceptions of the war and its next phases, as well as the perceptions of the Ukrainian population. Taking all of this into account, the Gallup poll sheds more light on war fatigue in Ukraine, and in what social groups these sentiments are likely to increase.     

Even in the Gallup poll, differences regarding the two opposing strategies are not critical in Ukraine’s macroregions. These differences become more pronounced only when taking into account how radicalised respondents are regarding nationalist views and positions. A joint survey conducted by the Democratic Initiatives Foundation and the Razumkov Center at the same time as the Gallup poll (in early September), shows that over the past year, the number of respondents who positively assess the actions of Stepan Bandera has increased from 31% to 50%. To add to this, 73% of respondents from western regions hold this view, whilst in the east and the south, that number stands at 30% and 20%, respectively. The same polarisation can be observed regarding the de-Russification of toponyms: 79% of respondents in the west support this initiative, while in the south the number stands at only 27%, and in the east — 44% (excluding the occupied territories). Thus, although there are a range of issues in Ukrainian society that have polarised its citizens, the question of "negotiations or the return of territories" is currently not one of them.