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THE MOST IMPORTANT RESULTS OF THE PUBLIC OPINION POLL IN SEPTEMBER 2013

1. The positive trend in the development of the “economic well-being” of Belarusians, outlined in the second quarter of 2013, shows its unstable character once again in the third quarter:

  • The ratio of those whose financial standing over the past three months has improved to those for whom it has become worse, decreased by more than 2% – from 13.7% vs. 21.6% in June to 11.6% vs. 21.6% in September (the number of responses “it has not changed” remains at the same level).
  • Despite the fact that the number of Belarusians who consider national economy in crisis decreased a little (in June the share of them was 59.8%, today it is 57.4%, in June 29.5% had the opposite opinion, today – 32.4%), and the real income grew up (the average size of the income, including salaries, pensions, grants and other extra earnings which account for one family member, increased from $ 280 to $ 310 in a quarter), level of optimism or the future decreased considerably: if in June 23.7% of respondents considered that “the socio-economic situation in Belarus within the next few years will become worse”, today 28.1% consider so (the number of optimists remains at the level of 17.5%).
  • The record prices hike in Europe during the first half of the year did not remain unnoticed by millions of citizens. Thus, while evaluating the situation, only 27.3% said that “everything’s not so bad, it’s possible to live”, 51.3% think that “it’s difficult to live, but still possible to put up with it” and 18.5% think that “it’s impossible to put up with our misery anymore”. Describing their attitude to the current life, more than 61% said that they “cannot adapt” to it, that they have “to “dodge”, to take up any opportunity to earn some money to provide a tolerable level of life for their families and themselves” (almost 55% of Belarusians often or at least sometimes have to work overtime), or that they have simply “got used to the urge to abandon the habitual way of life, to live cutting down their big and small needs”, and only 35.5% “live the same way as before” or “managed to use new possibilities to achieve more in life”.
  • In this context the authorities’ efforts to strengthen the national currency, numerous assurances that there will be no devaluation, appeals “not to listen the rascals and not to run to the exchange points” do not convince the majority of the population: 72% believe the threat of Belarusian ruble devaluation real or possible, nearly a half still trust the US dollar more than the Belarusian ruble (26.9%), therefore more than 62% of respondents follow the exchange rate of the ruble to the dollar.
  • As a result the trend towards the decline of number of those who consider that “the state of things in our country is developing in a wrong direction” in comparison with those who gave the opposite response recorded in the second quarter, turns in the opposite direction again: in June the ratio was 45.5% vs. 39.6%, now it is 46.7% vs. 39.1%.
2. It was more than once noted in IISEPS publications that the attitude of Belarusians towards the government has become increasingly skeptical in recent years, and this is due not only to the decrease of “economic well-being”, but also to the deepening of the gap between the state and the people. This can be remarked in several ways:
  • For example, answering the question “Who succeeds more than others in Belarusian society today?”, the major part of respondents (45.2%) chose the variant “someone on a high post, close to the regime”, 44.3% – “someone well-connected” and only 23.8% – “well-qualified, talented”, 21.2% – “hardworking”.
  • Nearly 37% of Belarusians “during the last five years were obliged to give money, valuable presents or to render services for a positive decision in their favor ” (among those who received those present or money were: healthcare workers – 20.6%, law enforcement officers – 10.4%, government officials – 8.4%, workers of education sphere – 6.6%). And among people who were obliged to give money or presents, 20.2% told that “it is necessary to pay more now” than ten years ago, and only 3.4% had to pay “less”. No wonder that 42.3% of citizens “don’t feel themselves under protection of law”.
  • Another example is the attitude towards the construction of a nuclear power plant in Ostrovetsky district in Grodno region with the help of Russia. Despite the authorities’ assurances of the safety of this project, only 34% feel positive about it, while 37.6% have a negative position. The reasons for this are not some machinations of the West or “opposition rascals”, but Belarusians’ own experience: over 76% believe that their health or the health of their family members worsened after the Chernobyl disaster (only 15% do not agree with this).
  • Most people understand that their opposition to the policies of the authorities on this or that question is not taken into account. Thus, 47.5% of respondents believe that “public opinion does not have any influence on political and economic decisions in the country” (41.5% think that there is an influence).
3. However these moods aren’t transferred to the head of state directly, the resource of public trust to him is far from being exhausted:
  • During the second quarter the president’s trust level practically didn’t change: today 46.7% trust him and 36.6% do not trust him (in June the ratios was 48.9% vs. 40.6%), and his electoral rating continues to increase gradually: in March 33.4% of respondents were ready to vote for him on new presidential elections, in June – 37.3%, today – 42.6% (the question was open).
  • As it has been repeatedly noted, the reasons for the stability of A. Lukashenko’s rating are various and cannot be reduced to a total control over society. They include as well the skillful “shifting of responsibility” for a number of errors and failures in politics and economics on others (for example, the government today is trusted by 38.3%, while 45.9% do not trust it), the absence of a convincing alternative for the majority of voters (only 18.5% know “a candidate who could successfully compete with A. Lukashenko in presidential election”, while 81.5% don’t know such a candidate), and other reasons.
  • However, it should be noted that not all people who are ready to vote for A. Lukashenko completely share his views: today there are only 18.4% of voters who can say this, 13.5% are ready to support him “as long as he continues to defend the independence of Belarus”, 14% support him “in absence of other worthy politicians”, 4.6% hope “that he will be good for Belarus later on”.
  • Still the main reason lies in the long-term political tradition of a “powerful hand”: according to 28.3% of respondents, “there are such situations (for example, like now) when it’s necessary to engross the absolute power in a single pair of hands”, another 26.1% consider that “our people always need a “powerful hand”. Much less people consider it “absolutely inadmissible if all the power is given into the hands of one person”.
4. Despite the fluctuations of the “economic well-being”, society’s readiness for change, including the support of opposition, remains low:
  • While every second respondent would like to see revolutionary changes in the domestic and foreign policy of Belarus in the next five years (20.2% don’t want it and 21.1% don’t care), only one in four said they were “quite possible” , 56.1 % consider such changes “unlikely” and 13.8% think they are “impossible”.
  • Today only 14.2% of respondents consider themselves in opposition to the current regime (in December the figure was 21.3%, in March – 16.9%), 15.3% trust opposition political parties, while 62.8% don’t trust them. According to an open question the electoral rating of V. Neklyaev is 5.2%, of A. Sannikov – 3.1%, of A. Milinkevich – 2.3%, of A. Lebedko – 1.4%. If parliamentary elections took place tomorrow, 7% of voters would vote for the candidates of civil campaign “Tell the Truth!” (“Belaya Rus” is on the second place with 4.3%).
  • These figures are considerably lower than the number of those who consider themselves as opponents of the president (9.7% “consider it important to support anyone but A. Lukashenko”), who are not his supporters (23.2%) or who have been “lately disappointed in him” (10.9%), and those who have some experience in various forms of social and political activities – who participated in permitted demonstrations (17.3%), signed a petition or a letter (16.3%), financially supported non-governmental organizations (14.5%) or pasted ads and handed out organizations’ newspapers (10.8%).
  • As in the case of president’s support, opposition’s weak support from the society cannot be explained only by factors of propaganda and fear. Despite the fact that the gap between the government and the people is gradually increasing, the corresponding rapprochement of the opposition and the people doesn’t take place: only 24.4% of respondents think that “Belarusian opposition understands problems and concerns of people like them”, while 56.6% answered this question negatively.
  • IISEPS polls have repeatedly shown that if opposition “moves closer to the people” it could reduce the gap and increase its role in the socio-political process. When the (open) question asks not about the candidates in the election, but about “politicians and public figures of national or local level, who express your interests best of all”, much less respondents are willing to vote for A. Lukashenko – 17.9%, while V. Neklyaev and A. Milinkevich are conversely mentioned more often – 7.9% and 3.9% respectively.
5. Although in general the earlier trends in foreign policy orientations of the Belarusians remain the same, there is once more a slight “cold snap” in the attitude to Russia:
  • If a referendum on the integration of Belarus and Russia was held today 27.6% of respondents would vote for it and 46.9% – against it (in June the ratio was 31.2% vs. 46.5%).
  • But this does not automatically lead to a growth of the pro-European orientation. In a referendum on joining the European Union 37.8% of respondents would vote for, while 37.5% – against (in June it was 37.7% vs. 38.1%), and if there was a hypothetical referendum on integration with Russia or joining the European Union with an exclusive choice 35.6% of respondents would choose the first option and 42.4% – the second (in June the ratio was 40.8% vs. 41%).
  • Geopolitical choice for the majority of Belarusians is a multilevel and multicompound process determined by the factors of current politics, fundamental values and real opportunities. Thus, estimating the consequences of the diplomatic feud between Belarus and the USA which broke out in the spring of 2008, most of respondents (41.6%) consider that “it is necessary to reestablish normal relationship with the USA” (25.5% think “it’s not necessary”, and “it doesn’t matter” to 28.2% of respondents). Most of those who would like to move to another country for permanent residence (for many years this figure doesn’t fall below 40%), name Germany (11.2%) and the USA (9.3%). Russia is named only by 3.8% of respondents, and the majority of respondents estimate that the standards of living in Russia in Belarus are equal today. But in reality the majority of 25.8% of Belarusian citizens working abroad today work in Russia (14.4%), 2% work in Ukraine, 2.8% – in Poland, and in all other countries of the West work from 0.9% (in the USA) to 0.1% (in Italy).
  • Probably it’s the fundamental factors (historical background and cultural community) that explain the fact that the majority of Belarusians evaluate positively the modern forms of integration with Russia, despite the “foreign policy zigzags” of their leadership and the criticism from the opposition. Thus, 15.5% of respondents assess as positive the consequences of entering the Common Free Market Zone with Russia and Kazakhstan, almost 30% see in it more positive than negative effects, 12.3% see more negative than positive effects, and only 4.3% see only negative consequences (25.4% didn’t see any consequences at all). The possible creation of the Eurasian Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and possibly other countries in 2015 provokes 37.6% of positive reactions, 37.4% of respondents don’t care about it, and 13.8% evaluate it negatively. According to 37.9% of respondents over the next 10 years Belarus will “remain an independent state, but its dependency on Russia will grow “, 18% think that it will “join Russia”, 25.1% answer that it will “remain an independent state and its independence from Russia will grow”. At the same time, the majority of respondents (44.1%) believe that if Belarus joins Russia, it will affect the lives of the population negatively (23.5% are positive on it, and 21.9% think it doesn’t matter).