«

»

PUBLIC OPINION LEADERS: WHO ARE THEY?

Since long ago the IISEPS has been regularly polling the public opinion leaders on the most acute and topical issues of social life and has been publishing its results in the mass media. As a rule, most leaders give rather negative estimation of socio-economic as well as social and political situation in the country being very pessimistic about its perspectives. In other words, their opinion sharply contrasts with the official propaganda, no matter which sectors they represent.

Perhaps, this is the reason why a regular publication of such polling results generally provokes a painful response of the paid propagandists and sociologists. The first either question the very identity of our public opinion leaders or imply falsification of the polling results. They are especially discontented with anonymity of the respondents list and inability to sort out with those who represent the public sector. Such attempts have apparently taken place as some of our respondents from the public sector unexpectedly refused to further co-operate with us, or switched to confidential contacts. All this has naturally created additional difficulties for us. Nevertheless, we are determined to continue conducting these polls.
The latter more cunningly “criticize” our polls. They usually point out that the results of such polls cannot be representative as a small number of respondents – we poll 60-70 people – does not allow making veracious conclusions and applying them to the entire assembly. There’s a sophism here regarding the definition of the very entire assembly. If this is the entire population, the attempts to present elite’s opinion as the opinion of general public are really a skin-game. The examples of this took place in the independent press, yet through not fault of ours. If by the entire assembly mean all Belarusian elite, then its composition will raise no less doubts. Who to place among it? Do all nonmanual workers fall into this category? Our experience of respondent sampling shows that some of those who consider themselves intellectuals are not always able to understand the essence of the questions asked. Also, there are some who don’t have any idea of certain topical problems or do not dare to have any personal opinion. Some refuse to fill in the questionnaire referring to insufficient anonymity of the polling more often concealing trivial dilettantism despite high positions or ranks. Furthermore, the people suffering indignity before administration and performing any order of a going too far bureaucrat thus conniving at direct violation of the law are hardly the elite. Such people can be especially often met in the public sector.
Therefore, our respondents are representatives of the most advanced, from our viewpoint, part of the Belarusian intellectuals who directly deal with preparing and taking major decisions in both the private and the public sectors. Having conducted the polling, we receive the modal opinion of a certain part of representatives of the most educated Belarusian establishment able to see into the heart of a question and give a perspicuous answer. This is the data we consider a true standpoint of the Belarusian public opinion leaders.
Another important factor stimulating our efforts is that for the years of conducting such polls we have discovered an interesting regularity: all qualitative estimations of our respondents concerning the forthcoming events finally come true and what opinion leaders think about today becomes in a few months a source of concern for the majority of the electorate. Clearly, there are some other reasons, methodical in particular. For instance, the results of polling the leaders allow improving the instruments of nation public opinion poll, etc.
They say, our respondents are secret representatives of the opposition within the public sector, for their opinion is absolutely different from the “right” one. However, we believe that the current authorities in view of their repressive nature hourly breed their opponents, both explicit and secret. Yet, this fact rather speaks in favor of our polls than proves a special selection of respondents. Moreover, we would be happy to have high-ranking officials answering our questionnaires. Unfortunately, they are beyond not only our reach.
So, who are they, public opinion leaders? As a rule, they are almost equally representatives of the public and private structures. Apart from this, we seek that the political, business, mass media elite and the scientific and research stratum are equally represented in our polls. Clearly, this does not always work, as Table 1 shows.

Table 1. Composition of the public opinion leaders and experts participating in the polling of May 2003, persons

скачанные файлы (4)

In our polls the political elite is represented by the leaders of major political parties and public organizations, key employees of state departments, deputies of both chambers of the Parliament and employees of the local governing authorities. The business elite is represented by administration of enterprises, banks and offices. The mass media – by heads of the leading press organs and sometimes other mass media. The scientific and research stratum – by the aids of corresponding organizations and boards of high school subdivisions.
Over 60% of them have been taking their positions for over five years (See Table 2) and only every fifth – under three years. There are more employees taking current positions for a long time in the public sector than in the private. To remind, at the end of 1996, according to the results of the identical opinion poll, absolute majority of the opinion leaders had been taking their positions for less than five years. In other words, relative personnel stabilization that came after the shift of elites in our society in 1994-1995 has brought to the increase in “leader’s career pattern”.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “For how long have you been working in the current position?”, %

скачанные файлы (5)

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “Have you ever:”, % (more than one answer is possible)

Variant of answer
All respondents
Public sector employees
Private sector employees
Stood out the initiator of forming a new structure (company, public association, etc.)
70
48
87
Taken part in the development or appraisal of laws or other legal norms
59
61
58
Taken part in an election campaign, in any form (except voting)
57
39
71
High civil activity of opinion leaders is also demonstrated in the fact that over 80% of them have more than once appeared in the mass media for the past year and over 90% – directly in public (See Tables 4 and 5). But it is well seen that their activity in the public sector have considerably declined for the past 2.5 years. This supposedly happened not because leaders’ proficiency dropped down but because their status holds them from writing or telling the truth and their conscience – from writing or telling the falsehood.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question “How often for the past year have you appeared in the mass media?”, %

Variant of answer
All respondents
Public sector employees
Private sector employees
09’00
05’03
09’00
05’03
09’00
05’03
Once a month and over
47
45
47
32
47
55
Several times
42
36
47
42
38
32
Never
9
19
4
26
12
13

Table 5. Distribution of answers to the question ” How often for the past year have you spoken directly in public (at press conferences, briefings, meetings, meetings with voters, conferences, seminars, etc.)?”, %

Variant of answer
All respondents
Public sector employees
Private sector employees
09’00
05’03
09’00
05’03
09’00
05’03
Once a month and over
49
45
44
23
53
63
Several times
42
46
47
61
38
34
Never
9
9
9
16
9
3
Table 6 sheds light to the reasons of such dynamics. It shows that almost all leaders of the public sector pointed out that they don’t have any part of property within an economic structure. In other words, their main source of income is the work in that very state structure. Therefore, they are forced to either take off their civil activity or clothe it in the forms acceptable for the administration so that not to remain without the means of subsistence.

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question “Do you have your own part of property (a part in the authorized fund, a stake, etc.) with an enterprise, company, etc.?”, %

скачанные файлы (6)

The polling materials show that nearly 70% of the respondents haven’t changed the sphere of their professional activity for the past five years that indicates to their high professional level. As regards employees of the private sector, about every third of them came there from the state structures. And almost as many employees of the public sector came from non-state structures. However, it should be noted that nowadays the process of “personnel exchange” between the social sectors has changed considerably. Frequent transfer of leaders from the public sector into the private was observed late 1996 (this is quite clear as the private sector was only formed then and it didn’t have another source of employees). By now, such “transfers” has sharply declined and have stabilized at the rate of 13-16% for the past five years. This indicates that both sectors have steadily turned “self-sufficient” – their peopleware is managed in accordance with their own rules and standards, almost not overlapping or interacting. In other words, both sectors exist as if in parallel worlds sorting out additional personnel in accordance with their own requirements. Transfer from one sector to the other grows more and more problematic. This is the evidence of another splitting line in the society strengthening social antagonisms.
Table 3 shows that opinion leaders are a very active part of the socium. As it is seen, 70% of them have once stood initiators of forming new structures (they are 87% in the private sector) and nearly 60% have once taken part in the development or appraisal of different legal acts. Approximately the same number of respondents took active part in the election campaigns. Yet, these were mainly representatives of the private sector: they are twofold more than in the public sector that is quite understandable.
Leaders from the private are totally different in this respect. Nearly 40% of them possess the property that is a major force of their independence in judgments and activity.
The data in Table 7 reveals that despite the difficulties of the modern Belarusian reality, almost all leaders from the private sector (97%) are optimistic looking ahead and expect to boost (52%) or at least maintain (45%) their status of a leader. As a rule, these respondents are not only public leaders but also leaders in their organizations. Due to this reason they are more likely to relate their status growth with the transfer into other social spheres. If take into account the fact that many of them were in mid 90-ies ousted from the public sector and in most cases from a high status level, they supposedly pin their perspectives with coming back into the public sector waiting for political changes in the near future. However, this is our personal assumption.

Table 7. Distribution of answers to the question “In you opinion, in the near five years your status:”, %

скачанные файлы (7)

Different is the situation in the public sector: over 60% of its leaders hope to at least maintain their statuses and only every fifth plans to increase its status. As the saying goes: “Beggars can’t be choosers.” This once again proves that social activity of people in the public sector is much weaker than in the private. In our opinion, it is artificially restricted by the government itself that attempts to squeeze the freedom of human thought into the Procrustean bed of tolerance and loyalty to the authorities. Sooner or later, this will lead to the intellectual impotence and creative sterility of human potential that will finally promote further degrading of the Belarusian society and state.