A Black Box in Dark Times: Russian Public Opinion in the Midst of Despotism and War

Seminars and Colloquia

While not doing too well on the battlefield, Vladimir Putin is taking advantage of the weak resistance to his military venture at home. This allows him to avoid responsibility for failures and wage a protracted war of attrition in Ukraine. But what is behind the poll numbers demonstrating massive support for the war in Russia? Are they relevant, and how should we interpret them? Do they have the same meaning as polls conducted in conditions of political pluralism and freedom of opinion? An analysis of long-term trends in the dynamics of Putin's popularity allows Kirill Rogov to reveal some of the mechanisms of "support inflation" under the authoritarian regime and the role of wars in these dynamics.

Shifts in "opinion climate" in the course of autocratization––and specifically in wartime––provide clues to understanding the "rally around the flag" effect. In this Fellows Colloquium, Rogov demonstrated that propaganda reaches its maximum effect in cooperation with repression, and that this explains its incredible success in hard autocracies, as well as in totalitarian regimes. However, in contrast with the totalitarian past, in modern times people are choosing to set their store not so much by ideologies and values, but by a certain "picture of reality" presented by the media. Using data from various surveys with a diverse range of questions and results, Rogov showed the range of attitudes among Russians to the "special military operation" and explain how the "imposed consensus" works. Finally, he attempted to answer the challenging question of what could potentially change the existing balance of attitudes to the war in Russia.

Kirill Rogov, IWM Visiting Fellow, is senior research fellow at the Gaidar Institute for Economic Policy and a member of the supervisory board of the Liberal Mission Foundation (Moscow).

Ivan Krastev, IWM Permanent Fellow, moderated the event.


Fellows Colloquia are internal events for the IWM Visiting Fellows and Guests.