Sunday, September 30, 2007

Window on Eurasia: Pro-Kremlin, Communist Voters Agree on Soviet Past – Except about Economics

Paul Goble

Vienna, September 30 – More than the backers of any other major Russian political party, voters who support the pro-Kremlin “Yedinaya Rossiya” (United Russia) agree most closely with those who identify with the Communist Party (KPRF) about the Soviet past – except on the question of economic arrangements.
According to a poll conducted in St. Petersburg, Kazan and Ulyanovsk oblast last summer, backers of United Russia and supporters of the KPRF are far more likely to view the impact of the Soviet past positively and to agree that Russians have every reason to be proud of it (
The survey, a portion of whose results were posted online ten days ago, provides one of the clearest indication yet that United Russia and KPRF draw support from those in the Russian Federation who support a more authoritarian and statist Russia than the one that first emerged after the collapse of the USSR.
Voters in the three places – a major European Russian metropolis, the capital of a non-Russian republic, and a district in the now traditional “Red Belt” -- were asked their opinions about the extent to which the Soviet system had a positive influence on culture, politics, and morality now and about how Russians should feel about their past.
Sixty-five percent of those who said they planned to vote for the KPRF said the Soviet system had had a positive impact on Russian culture, 47 percent said it had positively affected Russian politics, 54 percent said it had had a positive effect on Russian morality, and 79 percent said Russians had only reason for pride in that past.
The same figures for United Russia voters were 51, 32, 46, and 49 percent; with comparable responses for Yabloko voters being 46, 26, 45, and 49 percent; for LDPR voters being 43, 22, 43, 64 percent and for SPS voters being 37, Not given, 33, and 49 percent.
Thus, the pro-Kremlin electorate stood closer to the Communists than any other party, including LDPR on all these measures. There was only one major divergence: only 26 percent of the United Russia voters said that the Soviet system had a positive impact on the economy, compared to 44 percent of the Communist electorate.
That array of data suggests that it is only on the question of private ownership and capitalism that the United Russia and Communist voters disagree. On all others, including support for authoritarianism and opposition to liberal democratic freedoms, the voters sampled in this poll from these two parties held similar views.
But in addition to that finding, this poll, which was supported by the U.S. MacArthur Foundation, also points to something else which may be more important: significant portions in virtually all of these parties have a positive view about the Soviet past and many of its features.
Such a neo-traditionalist orientation almost across the board among Russian voters – those who back the SPS are something of an exception but Yabloko voters tend not to be – helps to explain why President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to promote traditional symbols and power arrangements enjoy the level of popular support they do.
On the one hand, this poll suggests that those who hoped for a liberal democratic transformation of the Russian Federation after 1991 underestimated the inertia of opinion within the Russian population. And on the other, it indicates that those who believed free markets would directly lead to democracy need to re-examine their views.

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