September 2015 Public Opinion Survey in Ukraine Presented on Capitol Hill
On October 9, 2015, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) hosted a Capitol Hill briefing on its September 2015 Public Opinion Survey in Ukraine, which provided insight on citizens’ views on democracy, government institutions and leaders, current events, foreign policy and the upcoming local elections. The survey was particularly timely, as the country is reconciling the slowing momentum from the 2013 Maidan revolution with many citizens’ aspirations still unmet.
E. Wayne Merry, Senior Fellow for Europe & Eurasia at the American Foreign Policy Council, reminded audience members that Ukraine is still at war, even if not readily evident in some places. The war has had a huge impact on the economy and national sentiment, e.g., the loss of exports due to decreased access to industrial parts of Donbas; a decrease in Russia’s influence on the economy and trade; and a greatly energized sense of national identity and unity. In spite of the war, he said many small and medium enterprises were flourishing and that civil society was extremely healthy, even if the latter has been largely a reaction to the failure of the state sector. Merry pointed to evidence of this failure in the recent outbreak of polio in southwestern Ukraine, where corruption has blocked the import of free vaccines from Canada. If backsliding occurs, as in Turkey and Hungary, and Ukrainians’ needs and desires remain unaddressed by political leaders, he believes that the “people are quite willing to stand up again.”
Rakesh Sharma, IFES’ Director of Monitoring & Evaluation and Survey Research, continued the discussion and similarly noted that Ukraine must be careful, as “momentum is not always forward” and “there can be steps backward.” IFES’ survey, which was conducted from September 12 to 26, 2015, found that although “41 percent of Ukrainians are strongly attached to democracy,” they are not seeing necessary changes and lack confidence in political leadership. A mere 15 percent of Ukrainians are satisfied with democracy in their country, and, for the first time since the second Maidan, more Ukrainians say that Ukraine is not a democracy than say it is a democracy. Faith in democracy remains, but Sharma warned that this faith can easily wane.
Additionally, favorability of Russian leadership and confidence in Ukraine’s national leadership, including President Petro Poroshenko, have both steeply declined; Yulia Tymoshenko is the only national leader to have seen the same or increased levels of confidence. Sharma has found that “there is a lot of pessimism in the country, [and] the challenge for Ukrainian political leaders is how to accelerate reforms.” In contrast to their trust in national leaders, Ukrainians have higher confidence in local officials and the Ukrainian military, and the new police force is much more trusted than the old one. Looking forward, 41 percent of survey participants are very likely to vote in the upcoming local elections, and turnout is likely to be highest in the Center and West and lowest in the South. The survey also found that Ukrainians would like to see either closer relations with Europe or both Europe and Russia, though support for closer ties with Russia has dropped, especially in the East and South.
After concluding their remarks, Merry and Sharma fielded questions from the audience, which included questions about the survey sample’s regional representation and the role of the Ukrainian and international media. IFES President and CEO Bill Sweeney then thanked the speakers for providing insight into Ukraine in the lead-up to their upcoming elections and closed the event.