IFES Public Opinion Surveys
Since 1994, the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) has conducted 25 nationwide public opinion surveys in Ukraine, examining socio-political issues and attitudes toward elections and democracy, among other topics, which have greatly assisted in guiding IFES programming and providing valuable data to donors, researchers and other stakeholders. IFES also conducts targeted opinion research and focus groups, focusing on specific issues and audiences, including election officials, women and disability rights groups, and internally displaced persons.
In this Q&A, General Director Dr. Vladimir Paniotto of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) – an organization IFES used to partner with to conduct its public opinion polling in Ukraine – discusses how the Euromaidan movement affected Ukrainians’ views on democracy, how public opinion polling can help strengthen democracy and what is unique about IFES’ public opinion polling project in Ukraine.
Can you tell us about what the KIIS does in Ukraine and how it worked with IFES?
KIIS is one of the leading research companies in Ukraine. It was founded in 1990 as a research center of the Sociological Association of Ukraine and transformed into private enterprise in 1992. KIIS mainly focuses on socioeconomic and political research and we have had a long and fruitful cooperation with IFES. IFES has been conducting surveys in Ukraine since 1994, and from 2009 until 2015, KIIS provided its expertise and research services to IFES public opinion polling covering key developments in Ukraine.
Typically, surveys for IFES employ nationwide samples. Aside from quantitative research, we provided IFES with qualitative information collected in focus group discussions with Ukrainian citizens, which was useful for in-depth understanding of many issues in our society.
In what ways can public opinion polling help strengthen democracy?
A friend once gave the following definition of democracy: a social system in which power belongs to the people and the rest belongs to the power. This is largely a joke. But, how can people realize their power? It is during the electoral process that people realize their power directly. Sociological surveys help control the falsification of election results. For example, in 2004, our exit poll in the second round of presidential elections showed a victory for opposition leader Viktor Yushchenko, but the Central Election Commission reported a victory for then Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. This discrepancy was one of the causes of the Orange Revolution and the abolition of the election results. Between elections, the people can realize their power by supporting or not supporting certain actions of elected leaders and public opinion polls provide feedback to the government on how citizens view their performance. Freedom to express one’s view, and this is vital to being able to conduct public opinion polls, is also one of the indicators of the level of democracy in a country.
How have Ukrainians’ views on democracy evolved during your work with IFES on public opinion surveys? How has the Euromaidan movement affected Ukrainians’ views on democracy?
Attitudes toward democracy have changed nonlinearly. After Ukraine became an independent state, there was a high support for democracy. Then people were disappointed in democracy, believing that democracy was the cause of the country’s economic difficulties. After Euromaidan, attitudes toward democracy greatly improved. Before Euromaidan, 35-40 percent of the population believed that democracy was the most desirable form of government, and after Euromaidan that number rose to 65 percent. However, support for democracy has begun to decline again.
What trends have you seen in public opinion regarding Ukraine’s relationship with the West and Russia?
This is probably the most important issue for Ukraine – it is a question of what type of society one wants to live in. Before Euromaidan, a third of the population had a steady focus on the alliance with Europe, a third wanted an alliance with Russia, and a third were changing their views depending on the wording of the question. After the annexation of Crimea, positive attitudes toward Russia deteriorated dramatically, but attitudes toward an alliance with the West did not significantly increase; some of the population chose "neither Russia nor Europe" in polls. It should be noted that some of these changes are related to the fact that we do not conduct surveys in Crimea.
What makes the IFES public opinion polling project in Ukraine unique?
Due to IFES conducting public opinion polling since 1994, it owns a unique data collection on Ukrainian public opinion and its metamorphoses through the years. IFES has data that spans decades and tracks change over a long period on the same issues.