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RATING AS A FACTOR OF POLITICAL MOBILIZATION

Public opinion appears to play progressively more important role in the politics of the most world countries. This means that increasingly more people get involved into the process of discussion and decision-taking. Sociological surveys and publication of their results in the mass media has become by far the most efficient instrument ensuring nowadays participation of public opinion in the process of government. Due to this reason the ratings, i.e. indexes of people’s readiness to vote for a candidate or a party, turn the most essential criterion of estimating success of a political campaign. As far as voters choosing between several candidates don’t usually contact with those candidates directly, they have to rely on the opinion of the majority: by a well-known psychological law, people don’t like to stay in minority. Therefore, ratings have become not just an essential criterion of estimating a political campaign but also a powerful factor of political mobilization. True fights are led during the election campaigns: to persuade the electorate in favor of themselves, politicians by all means try to draw to their side authoritative and recognized researches and analysts.

What is the place of ratings in the political life of Belarus? Who and how fights for them? In view of a possible referendum on amendments to the Constitution, coming parliamentary election and preparations to the presidential election undertaken by some far-seeing politicians, not only journalists and analysts but many voters as well take interest in those questions.
A distinguishing feature of the political life in Belarus is that since long ago representation of the reality by the state-run and non-state information sources and first of all by the mass media differs like day and night, especially during the election campaigns. Thus, as the results of the IISEPS nation opinion polls show, two years after the presidential election, A. Lukashenko’s rating has seriously changed (See Table 1).

Table 1. Dynamics of A. Lukashenko’s open rating, %

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Despite certain fluctuation, the general tendency is absolutely transparent: president’s rating and, consequently, support of his course, has been steadily going down. However, the state-run mass media don’t disclose this fatal for the authorities tendency: they on the contrary state that president’s rating rises and it gives no serious cause for concern. The record of those results in the state-run media is given if only to ‘exposes’ telling about ‘incompetence’, ‘engagement’ and even ‘corruptibility’ of ‘cracker-barrel analysts’. We are not aware about president’s reaction to those ‘exposes’ but we do know how the Belarusian electorate responds to them (See Table 2).

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “In your opinion, has A. Lukashenko’s rating (i.e. people’s readiness to vote for him at the next presidential election) dropped down or increased for the period since the presidential election of 2001?”

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As it is seen, absolute majority of voters says that president’s rating has dropped down for the past two years. We are far from overestimating the work of independent research centers and independent press. But even though state-run mass media still outrun non-state ones in the level of credence (49.7% vs. 46.0%) and most of citizens (55.9%) haven’t read the materials of independent research centers, it is clear that a vast majority of the Belarusians somehow catches those weak signals and estimates the situation quite adequately. Perhaps, this can be accounted for by strong social needs (See Table 3). It is obvious that longing for changes, expectation of an alternative and readiness to accept it are becoming dominant political aims of the Belarusians.

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “If you knew a candidate able to effectively compete with A. Lukashenko at the next presidential election, would you vote for him or for A. Lukashenko?”

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By another law of psychology, in the first place people notice those things they look for. With such a strong aim at changes, a small hint answering that aim will cause ‘chain information reaction’ able to overcome all barriers. Very illustrative in this regards is president’s rating in different socio-demographic groups of the Belarusian society (See Table 4).

Table 4. Awareness of A. Lukashenko’s rating dynamics in different socio-demographic groups*, %

Socio-demographic groups
A. Lukashenko’s rating
Has increased
Has dropped down
Age:
Under 30
12.0
74.5
Over 50
48.8
51.2
Education:
Elementary (less than 4 grades in a secondary school)
41.6
33.2
Higher (incomplete higher included)
13.5
76.8
Social status:
Students
6.9
71.5
Pensioners
44.2
32.1
Place of living:
Minsk
18.4
67.7
Village
30.2
51.4

* Read the table across

Although differences are obvious except for those pensioners with low level of education, socio-demographic characteristics aren’t in this case a critical factor (that is a very rare phenomenon in sociology): almost all groups (even villagers!) consider that president’s rating has dropped down as compared to the presidential election.
But to understand a real role of rating in the political life of Belarus, we need to examine whether there is any connection between awareness of president’s rating and attitude towards the essential political issues (See Table 5).

Table 5. Attitude of the Belarusians towards the essential political issues depending on their awareness of A. Lukashenko’s rating dynamics, %

Indicators of attitude towards the essential political issues
A. Lukashenko’s rating
Has increased
Has dropped down
At the possible referendum on Constitution amendment to allow А. Lukashenko be elected president again I would vote:
For such amendment of the Constitution
61.1
6.5
Against such amendment of the Constitution
15.5
73.0
Do not know yet, would judge by circumstances
21.9
15.5
Wouldn’t take part in such a referendum
0.4
4.0
Attitude towards introducing amendments into the Electoral Code so that election in Belarus become more free and fair:
Support
22.7
56.1
Don’t support
57.3
22.8
If you knew a candidate able to effectively compete with A. Lukashenko at the next presidential election, you would vote :
For such a candidate
16.3
77.3
For A. Lukashenko
69.2
5.5
Do not know yet, would judge by circumstances<
14.5
17.3
This country has achieved greater progress in building a democratic state and a civil society:
Belarus
21.5
65.2
Russia
49.6
5.9
Both countries equally
16.1
20.2
If you had to choose between integrating with Russia and joining the EU, you would cast your vote for:
Integration with Russia
62.1
41.5
Joining the European Union
18.9
46.4
In our opinion, these results need no comment: most respondents saying that president’s rating has dropped down take quite a different stand on essential political issues and aim at changes increasingly stronger. This means that the rating turns as well a powerful factor of political mobilization in Belarus.
On the other hand, fight for rating in this country sharply differs from how this happens in other countries. The authorities usually either conceal true ratings replacing them with exaggerated figures (multiplying them at least twofold) for the general audience or hamper activity of independent researches (this is why the notorious Commission for public opinion polls was formed last year). Unfortunately, response of their opponents differs not much: the opposition takes information on the landslide of president’s rating with enthusiasm while as well conceals or rejects any information about its own much lower ratings (ratings of leading opposition parties and their leaders have been ranging from 3% to 7% since long ago). Motivation is the only thing they differ from one another: while the authorities speak about ‘engagement’ or ‘corruptibility’ of independent researches, the opposition claims that “free expression of opinion is impossible by definition under dictatorship, therefore sociological researches cannot be believed.” In other words, politicians in other countries fight for ratings while politicians in Belarus fight against ratings. As the result, political mobilization is inadequate and therefore inefficient. Whoever looks in the mirror, he will see his own reflection only.