«

»

VIEWS OF OPINION LEADERS AND POPULATION: WHO KNOWS MORE ABOUT THE TRUTH?

Theoretically, it is clear that the views of social problems, shared by the elite and the views of people at large may substantially vary. The reasons are obvious: the elite has common cultural background, level of education, professionalism, access to information etc. All these factors among the elite are notably higher, than among the rest of the population. These facts allow us to make a guess, that in most cases the views of the elite reflect the processes under way in a more correct and adequate manner. On the other hand, by comparing the opinions of the elite and people at large, we may forecast the trends and speed of the development of social processes, give a clearer assessment of the prospects and choose the right way to go.

Having this in mind, we must be interested in comparing the opinions of the elite and the population at large about some vexed social problems. The analysis uses the results of the survey conducted among opinion leaders, which was organized by IISEPS in June 2000 (56 people were queried, including policy makers, opinion leaders, business people and analysts, of whom 23 people represented state structures and 33 people – non government groups), as well as the results of the August 2000 national opinion poll, which was also done by IISEPS.
According to the results of the polls (Table 1), the elite feels less optimism about the change of the economic situation in the country over the last year than the population at large. At the same time, there is no substantial difference between the assessments made by representatives of state and non-state structures, although the former are more cautious in their views, which is natural.

Table 1. Distribution of answers to the question “How did the economy in Belarus change over the last year?”*, %

Answer
Elite survey
National opinion poll
total
of them, representatives of
non-state structures
government structures
It deteriorated
85.7
90.9
78.4
63.5
It did not change
5.4
0
13.0
29.1
It improved
3.6
3.0
4.3
5.3

* Here and below the sum of answers in columns may be less than 100%, because the line “No answer” has been omitted

According to Table 2, most leaders hold the president and government guilty for the deteriorating economy in the country. Here, there is also no substantial difference between the answers given by representatives of government and non-state structures: both groups accuse the president in the first place and the government in the second.

Table 2. Distribution of answers to the question “Who is responsible for a deteriorating economy in Belarus?”, %

Answer
Elite survey
National opinion poll
total
of them, representatives of
non-state structures
government structures
President
42.5
45.1
38.2
20.8
Government
25.7
29.6
19.1
25.9
Local authorities
12.4
12.7
11.9
18.6
Heads of state companies, collective farms
5.3
1.4
11.9
5.9
Bureaucrats
5.3
4.2
7.1
10.3
Russia
3.5
4.2
2.3
0.9
Mafia
2.7
1.4
4.8
9.2
Mass media
0.9
0
2.4
0.5
Communists
0
0
0
1.9
Democrats
0
0
0
1.9
Businessmen
0
0
0
1.9
West
0
0
0
1.8
Other
1.7
1.4
2.3
0.4
Total:
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
However, fewer people, who represent the government sector, think that the government is responsible, which can be explained by their status. Other options had very few supporters among the elite.
The results of the national opinion poll give us a different picture. Here, the government is in first place and the president has second. Moreover, fewer people said that the president was responsible during the national poll: approximately two out of five representatives of the elite said that the president was to blame, and only one out of five respondents to the general poll said so. Therefore, the elite, unlike the population at large, understands that the government and local authorities are the team of the president and does not believe them to be independent. The people, however, cannot (or do not want) stop seeing Alexander Lukashenko as an ideal hero.
Yet another difference is that people are more vulnerable to state propaganda than the elite. The propaganda machine tries to maintain that the authorities are not to blame for the deteriorating economy. People’s vulnerability is indicated by the answers they gave to the question, who is responsible for the worsening economy: they did not only mention the authorities, but also the notorious Mafia, bureaucrats, democrats, business people etc. The degree of the economic entities’ guilt naturally depends on their influence on social lie in Belarus. According to Table 3, the elite and population at large think the authorities have the most influence on the situation, which testifies to the this conclusion. There are no substantial differences between the structure of answers in the two surveys.

Table 3. Distribution of answers to the question “Who has the most influence on social life in this country?”, %

Answer
Elite survey
National opinion poll
total
of them, representatives of
non-state structures
government structures
The present authorities
29.7
29.4
30.3
26.2
Mass media
22.8
22.8
22.7
18.4
Russia
19.0
18.5
19.7
7.9
Political parties
8.9
11.9
4.5
8.3
People
5.1
3.3
7.6
6.3
West
3.2
3.3
3.0
5.2
Heads of companies, collective farms
2.5
3.3
1.5
4.3
Church
1.3
1.0
1.5
6.1
Trade unions
0.6
1.0
0
1.7
Public associations
0.6
0
1.5
3.4
Scholars, cultural workers
0
0
0
2.3
Other
6.3
5.5
7.7
9.9
Total:
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0
Notably, although Russia is believed to have great impact in the situation (the elite put it in third and the people in fourth place), few respondents think it is guilty (it is only in sixth place in the elite survey and eleventh place in the general poll). Therefore, the Belarusian think that our problems are rooted inside the country. Only the “election populism” can explain the fact, why the elite think that the people in this country and the opposition can make life better (Table 4). Here, however, the differences between representatives of non-state and government structures are substantial: the former primarily lay their hopes on the opposition and then on the people and Western support, while the latter rely on themselves first and then on the people and Western support. According to the results of the national poll, the people primarily rely on themselves, and then on a union with Russia. The hopes on the Belarusian opposition among common people are ten times as vague as they are among opinion leaders.

Table 4. Distribution of answers to the question “On whom do you lay hopes for better life in this country?”, %

Answer
Elite survey
National opinion poll*
total
of them, representatives of
non-state structures
government structures
Belarusian opposition
21.7
26.0
13.2
2.1
Belarusian people
21.7
23.4
18.4
17.1
Western support
20.9
23.4
15.8
9.4
Union with Russia
5.2
3.9
7.9
18.1
President
3.5
1.3
7.9
17.0
Government
0.9
0
2.6
6.5
Law enforcers
0.9
0
2.6
3.4
National assembly
0.9
0
2.6
0.6
Myself
24.3
22.0
29.0
25.8
Total:
100.0
100.0
100.0
100.0

* June 2000

Table 4 shows that very few respondents think that the president, let alone government, can make life better. These hopes are in sixth place among the elite (3.5% respondents) and fourth place among common people (17%). Small wonder! Table 5 shows the opinions of respondents about A. Lukashenko’s meeting his pre-election promises.

Table 5. The distribution of respondents’ answers to the question whether A. Lukashenko kept his election promises during the six years of his rule, %

Promises
Elite survey
National opinion poll
total
of them, representatives of
non-state structures
government structures
kept
did not keep
kept
did not keep
kept
did not keep
kept
did not keep
Compensate people’s bank deposits that they lost, at the 1985 dollar rate
1.8
92.9
0
100.0
4.3
82.6
5.9
72.9
Bring down prices and inflation, increase wages and old-age pensions to match world standards
3.6
94.6
0
100.0
8.7
87.0
4.1
79.0
Provide free health care at a European standard
3.6
89.3
0
100.0
8.7
73.9
6.2
72.8
Offer support to businessmen and protect them from government racketeering
3.6
89.3
0
100.0
8.7
73.9
8.4
51.9
Give back to the people the things that Mafia stole
5.4
83.9
0
100.0
13.0
60.9
5.9
72.9
Increase international respect for Belarus
5.4
89.3
0
100.0
13.0
73.9
21.3
45.3
Bring freedom to mass media
7.1
83.9
0
100.0
17.4
65.2
21.3
47.4
“Launch” factories (i.e. stop economic recession)
8.9
82.1
0
100.0
21.7
56.5
25.0
48.3
Drastically bring down budget spending on state apparatus
8.9
80.4
0
100.0
21.7
52.2
10.2
50.1
Restore close relations with all parts of the former Soviet Union (Russia and Ukraine in the first place)
19.6
64.3
12.1
81.8
30.4
39.1
53.2
21.7
It is clear, that respondents show little optimism about the fulfilling of the promises, that the president has once publicly made. Only regarding the restoration of close relations with the countries of the former Soviet Union the national poll produced 53.2% of positive answers. The majority of the elite has a more pessimistic view of the president’s efforts to meet his promises. Of them, the representatives of non-state structures gave the most negative answers.
As a result, the overwhelming majority of the elite gave negative answers to the direct questions whether they were satisfied with the way A. Lukashenko has been ruling the country over the last six years (Table 6). The representatives of non-state structures are especially discontent. However, even among the representatives of government agencies, 70% offered negative assessments. The national opinion poll showed that the number of the discontent is 2.5% as big as the quantity of satisfied people.

Table 6. Distribution of answers to the question “Are you satisfied with the way, Alexander Lukashenko has been ruling the country for the last six years?”, %

Answer
Elite survey
National opinion poll
total
of them, representatives of
non-state structures
government structures
Rather satisfied
5.4
0
13.0
17.6
Partially satisfied, but there also is some dissatisfaction
7.1
0
17.4
40.5
Rather dissatisfied
85.7
97.0
69.6
41.6
Therefore, we can state that the society steadily accumulates a substantial negative potential towards the regime, personified by A. Lukashenko. Considering the results of the survey conducted among opinion leaders, the speed of its accumulation may increase in the near future.