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In 2024, the presidential elections are going to be held in Russia. They are covered in uncertainty, unusual for the elections in the autocratic regime, as the ongoing war in Ukraine is one of the key factors determining the political course of Russia.
Open Minds Institute asked Russians about their perception of the future of Russia’s politics: the probability of power transition, political course, and the desired presidential figure.
According to the predicted scenarios of Russia, the preservation of the current regime is highly possible. The chance of free and fair elections leading opposition to governance is, reversely, assumed as unrealistic. Read the report to find out which vision of the future Russian respondents confirmed.
Respondents were recruited online. The data were collected on July 20.
The sample was stratified by sex and age (equal age and sex groups 18-30, 31-44, 45-60 years). The data was cleaned, and the analysis excluded people who did not answer all the questions. The final sample comprised 1031 respondents, 517 women, and 514 men. The mean age of the respondents is 35.51, and the standard deviation is 11.56. The sample included residents of all federal districts of Russia.
Respondents were asked a series of questions about their socio-demographic characteristics, support for the invasion of Ukraine, views on the direction of their country's development, and attitudes toward peace negotiations.
On July 18, a pilot study was conducted in which 250 Russian respondents gave detailed answers to open-ended questions concerning the future of the current war, Russian statehood, government, and economy. The most frequently encountered responses formed the basis for the main stage of the survey of Russians' attitudes toward the future, which is described in this report.
The questions addressed the attitudes towards the possibility of a change of power and political regime in Russia and the results of such change.
We were interested in how respondents see the transition of political power in Russia in the light of the war outcomes. Power occasionally changes, not only in democracies but also in autocracies. However, in a personalist autocracy like Russia, the change of state leader for all kinds of reasons creates uncertainty. People who will gain power would, in most scenarios, act one way or another differently from the previous leader.
Noteworthy, 41.52% of respondents believe or rather believe that the power will be shifted after fair elections. Even more people (44.71%) are convinced that the current authorities, personified in Putin’s figure, will appoint a successor.
Despite the Prigozhin's mutiny in June, a minority of respondents believe in conspiracies and revolution.
Not a single one of the proposed options received more than half of the votes, which may indicate that the respondents generally see few possibilities for a change of power in Russia. Authority in Russia seems stable and unchanging.
Respondents demonstrate a positive attitude towards the attributes of the liberal-democratic state system, as in our previous research on protests.
In particular, 85.35% rather or completely perceive human rights as important, 68% believe that an independent judicial system is vital, and 63.53% agree that freedom of opinion and expression should be respected. At the same time, 47.52% would like the oligarchs to be unbundled, which is understandable given that the property inequality is the most significant in Russia.
However, this kind of anti-elite sentiment remarkably increases the credibility of populist messages without helping to fight the real oligarchs. Putin and, let's say, Prigozhin actively use anti-elite rhetoric, even though they are themselves extremely wealthy people who did not earn their fabulous fortunes by hard work. It is also important to note that only 38.9% of respondents believe Russia needs a regular transition of power.
44.13% are in favor of significant changes in the country's political system. Meanwhile, 45.58% stand for fighting theft and corruption only, and think the system's foundations should remain.
The correlation between these two answers is negative (r = -0.43, p > 0.001), which means that these points are different and people do not mix them. It seems, Russian society is polarized and divided in two in its attitude to Putin's regime. Half of them want it to be preserved under the condition of minor surface improvements, while the other half want its reconstruction.
Curiously, despite a long history of mass propaganda about "conservatism" and the "strong government hand", 60.82% of Russians believe that Russia needs democracy, 32.59% support socialism, 20.17% favor liberalism, and conservatism came in fourth place with 18.53%.Monarchist views expressed 5.44% of respondents.
At the same time, the overwhelming majority of respondents do not want a pro-Western political regime: only 6.88% of respondents would accept it. Even totalitarianism is desired by slightly more people, 7.27%. Thus, many Russians would like a democratic system in the country, while the extreme forms of power structure (anarchist, monarchist, fascist) are really quite marginal.
Nevertheless, 60.82% is not even two-thirds of the population, meaning that 39.19% are either skeptical of democracy or even against it. This may be due to the fact that many Russians associate democracy with the dysfunctional life and gangsterism of the 1990s.
Important questions in our survey were the wishes and expectations of the future leader compared to the acting president. We asked respondents what qualities they seek or despise in the future president, as well as what qualities they think the future president will actually have.
The Pearson correlations between the ideal and real traits of the future state leader are 0.47-0.56, p > 0.001, which indicates strong proximity between the ideal and current images of the Russian president in the post-Putin era.
As can be seen, the two most important qualities, justice and caring, are the most desired in the new leader of the state after Putin compared to him. Other traits such as competence, determination, and the ability to compromise are also important, but fewer respondents would like these qualities to be displayed in the ideal leader more, than in Putin, than those who are sure that Putin has them all right.
Most Russians believe that the future president will be similar to the acting one, but there are some hopes that the next president will be more just (36.66%), caring (36.46%), accommodating (35.99%), decisive (35.01%), and competent (32.78%) than Putin.
The study highlighted a divided sentiment regarding the political system, with some advocating for significant changes and others preferring to maintain the current system with an effective fight against corruption.
Despite conservative propaganda, the majority of Russians support the idea of democracy, but not the Western type. Respondents desire a future leader similar to the current president but with a greater emphasis on justice and caring. Overall, the findings illustrate a divided outlook on Russia's future yet a prevailing desire for the country to remain a great power.
The conclusions drawn from the study are indeed disheartening. A deep-seated dislike of the West, along with a lack of serious consideration for the future, is reflected in the desire for a future leader who closely resembles the current president.
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