Change on the Horizon? Public Opinion in Ukraine before the 2010 Presidential Election

Publication Date: 
12 Nov 2009

Publication Type:



This report details the findings from the latest IFES survey in Ukraine and some of the findings from earlier surveys will be referenced in this briefing paper. The fieldwork for this most recent survey was conducted from November 21 to 30, 2009, with 1,502 respondents throughout Ukraine. This sample comprised a national sample of 1,252 respondents and an over-sample of 125 respondents in Kyiv and 125 respondents in Crimea. The data has been weighted by region, age and gender to be nationally representative for the adult (18+) population of Ukraine. The margin of error for a sample of this size is plus/minus 2.5%. Fieldwork for this survey was conducted before the presidential elections in January 2010 and the data reflects Ukrainians’ opinions heading into this election. The fieldwork and data processing for the survey were conducted by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology (KIIS), based in Kyiv. Funding for the survey was provided by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

General Perceptions of Political Situation and Economy

  • Ukrainians head to the upcoming presidential elections in a pessimistic mood about the direction of the country. Nearly three-quarters of Ukrainians (74%) believe Ukraine is on a path toward instability and chaos, similar to the 76% who expressed this opinion in the 2008 survey. Only 7% believe Ukraine is on the path toward stability.
  • The vast majority of Ukrainians are dissatisfied with the economic situation (96%) and political situation (92%) in Ukraine. Reflecting the dissatisfaction with the economic situation, 95% of Ukrainians describe the current economic situation as being very or somewhat bad.
  • Ninety percent also express dissatisfaction with the healthcare situation in the country. Seventy-one percent are dissatisfied with the foreign policy of Ukraine. The level of dissatisfaction with the political and economic situation, and with foreign policy is little changed since the 2008 survey.
  • Inflation continues to be a major concern for Ukrainians as it is mentioned by 58% as one of the most serious issues facing Ukraine. Economic issues dominate the list as general economic problems are mentioned by 40%, unemployment and poverty are each mentioned by 39% and corruption by 37%. Political issues are also mentioned by many, as political bickering is mentioned by 20%, general political instability by 15% and problems with Russia by 15%.
  • Ninety-six percent of Ukrainians believe corruption is very or somewhat common in Ukraine. When asked whether corruption is a serious or not serious issue in specific institutions, a majority say corruption is a very or somewhat serious problem in the police (86%), hospitals (86%), courts (86%), universities and schools (75%), the Rada (75%), the Cabinet of Ministers (70%), the tax authorities (69%), the Presidential administration (67%) and the customs authorities (65%).


Opinions on the Presidential Election

  • More than two-thirds of Ukrainians (67%) say they are very likely to vote in the first round of the presidential election on January 17, 2010. Another 21% say they are somewhat likely to vote, suggesting that turnout for the election will be fairly similar to the 75% turnout for the first round of the 2004 presidential election. The percentage of respondents who say they are very likely to vote goes up by age group with those in the 18-29 age group being less likely to say they are very likely to vote (61%) than those aged 60 and over (75%). There is little difference between men and women. Residents of the West (77%), East (70%) and South (70%) are more likely to say they are very likely to vote than those in Kyiv (59%), Crimea (57%) and Central Ukraine (50%).
  • The likelihood of voting in the second round is impacted by whether the candidate one votes for in the first round makes it into the second round. Among likely voters in the first round, if their candidate of choice makes it into the second round 75% say they are very likely to vote in the second round and 20% say they are somewhat likely. If their candidate of choice does not make it into the second round, 53% say they are very likely to vote in the second round and 28% are somewhat likely.
  • Among all Ukrainians, Viktor Yanukovych is the most popular choice for president in the first round (31.2%) followed by Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko (19.1%). Other candidates with significant support include Serhiy Tygypko (4.8%), Arseniy Yatsenyuk (4.7%), Petro Symonenko (3.8%), President Viktor Yuschenko (3.5%) and Volodymyr Lytvyn (2.8%). If only voters who say they are very or somewhat likely to vote are considered, Yanukovych is preferred by 34.5% and Tymoshenko by 20.6%. Yanukovych’s base of support is in Eastern and Southern Ukraine as well as in Crimea. Tymochenko’s base of support is in Western and Central Ukraine, while the two candidates have similar levels of support in Northern Ukraine.
  • In a possible second-round matchup between Yanukovych and Tymoshenko, 42% at this time say they would support Yanukovych and 28% would vote for Tymoshenko with 18% saying they would vote against both. If Yanukovych and Yatsenyuk contested the second round, 42% would vote for Yanukovych and 22% for Yatsenyuk with 22% voting against both.
  • Yanukovych is the leading presidential contender despite having a net negative rating as far as perceptions of him among Ukrainians are concerned (55% negative, 42% positive). This points to the general dissatisfaction with political elites in the country; despite these ratings, Yanukovych has the highest positive rating of all presidential candidates. The perceptions of other leading presidential contenders are as follows: Tymoshenko (67% negative, 30% positive), Yatsenyuk (56%, 32%), Tygypko (50%, 32%), Lytvyn (60%, 31%), Symonenko (69%, 22%) and Yuschenko (83%, 13%).
  • In comparing those who say they will vote for Yanukovych and Tymoshenko in the first round, the Yanukovych voters are more likely to be certain of their choice. Among these voters, 78% say they will definitely vote for Yanukovych and 13% are fairly certain of voting for him. Among Tymoshenko voters, 65% say they are definitely going to vote for her while 27% are fairly certain.
  • While most respondents who support a particular candidate in the first round of the presidential election say they support them because they are the best candidate, a sizable percentage also say they chose the candidate primarily because they do not like anyone else. For Yanukovych, 19% of his supporters express this opinion while it is 20% in the case of Tymoshenko, 23% in the case of Yatsenyuk, and 25% in the case of Tygypko.
  • Economic concerns dominate the list of issues Ukrainians would like the winning presidential candidate to address once he or she takes office. Seventy-one percent name the creation of jobs as an important issue followed by reducing inflation (56%), reduction in corruption (48%), improvement of health care services (33%), political stability (33%) and addressing the gas delivery situation with Russia (17%).
  • When asked to name the political party that best represents the interests of people like them, 26% name the Party of Regions and 16% name BYUT. This data indicates a possible shift in party support since the 2008 IFES survey. In that survey, when voters were asked to name the party they would support in a possible Rada election, 26% each named BYUT and Party of Regions.
  • There are split opinions on whether the presidential election will be free and fair. Forty-six percent of Ukrainians believe the elections will either not be very free and fair or not free and fair at all, while 42% believe the election will be completely or somewhat free and fair. Pessimism about the election higher in Crimea (64% not free and fair) and in eastern Ukraine (53%) than in Kyiv (32%) and western Ukraine (30%).
  • When respondents are asked for main reasons for ensuring free and fair presidential elections, 41% mention the fact that the law ensures free and fair elections and a similar percentage mentioned that the local election commission is fair. Twenty-nine percent cite the fact that the Central Election Commission consists of representatives from different political parties, 27% cite international election observation, 22% mention observation by independent domestic actors, and 14% mention monitoring of the election process by the media.
  • While a majority of Ukrainians believe elections in Ukraine are competently administered (53%) and that observers have a positive effect on the fairness and legitimacy of elections, a majority disagrees with the statement that the results of elections accurately reflects the way people voted in the election (59%). Thirty-four percent agree with this statement. Skepticism about election results is a plurality or majority response in all regions of Ukraine but is especially high in Crimea (72%). A majority of Yanukovych supporters voice skepticism about election results (63%) while a majority of Tymoshenko supporters agree that election results reflect the way people voted (52%).
  • Thirty-two percent express a great deal or fair amount of confidence in the Central Election Commission (CEC), while 58% have little or no confidence in the institution. Notably, the percentage with confidence in the CEC has increased from 21% in 2008.


Opinions on Voting, Key Institutions and Democracy

  • While it is likely voter turnout for the January 2010 election will be fairly high, Ukrainians’ belief that their vote can impact decision-making has declined significantly since the 2004 election. In this survey, only 26% agree that voting gives people like them a chance to influence decision-making in the country while 68% disagree. In the IFES survey directly before the 2004 elections, 47% each agreed and disagreed with the statement.
  • The vast majority of Ukrainians also do not believe that ordinary people can have influence on governmental decision-making. Eighty-one percent disagree that people like them can influence decision-making and only 14% agree. This data is similar to that observed in the 2008 IFES survey. More people than not believe Ukraine is not a democracy. Only 24% of Ukrainians believe Ukraine is a democracy compared to 49% who do not believe it is a democracy. Still, the percentage that believes that Ukraine is a democracy has increased from 15% in 2008. When asked what defines a democracy, most respondents believe it means the protection of human rights (59%). Respondents also identify fair/consistent enforcement of laws (47%), everybody having work (46%), freedom of speech (36%), no official corruption (35%), state support of those unable to work (29%) and state support of pensioners (29%) as tenets of democracy. A small proportion of respondents (28%) associate democracy with the freedom to vote, checks and balances between branches of government (22%), freedom of religion (20%) and freedom of association (12%).
  • Confidence remains low in many critical institutions and individuals in Ukraine. Respondents have no or little confidence in the Verkhovna Rada (85%), President Viktor Yuschenko (85%), the Cabinet of Ministers (78%) and the Ministry of Justice (62%). A majority also cite a lack of confidence in the two leading presidential contenders: Viktor Yanukovych (60%) and Prime Minister Tymoshenko (73%). While lack of confidence in Yanukovych declined slightly from 2008 to 2009 (64% to 60%), it increased significantly for Tymoshenko (63% to 73%).
  • In addition to the fact that the majority of Ukrainians lack confidence in several key institutions, they also tend to believe that elected officials in Ukraine are not accountable to the people they serve. Seventy percent of Ukrainians disagree that elected officials are accountable to their constituents with only 19% agreeing with this statement. There is substantial support for one measure that has been discussed inside Ukraine to make parliamentarians more accountable. When respondents are asked whether voters should be able to vote directly for parliamentary candidates rather than voting for political parties, 71% strongly or somewhat support this proposal and only 11% oppose it.
  • A majority (54%) agrees this change in method of voting for parliament would make Rada deputies more accountable to the public, while 24% disagree.
  • In order to gauge opinions on recently proposed legislative initiatives, respondents were also asked whether they agree with a change to the constitution that would allow the President to be elected by the Rada rather than Ukrainian voters. Fully 84% of Ukrainians strongly or somewhat oppose this, compared to only 6% who support this change.
  • Dissatisfaction with key institutions extends to political parties. Dissatisfaction with the representativeness of major political parties is also clear. More than half of all Ukrainians (57%) believe only some political parties in Ukraine address issues facing the country, while 20% say no party addresses issues, 9% do not know or refused and only 13% believe they do. On another question, 52% say political parties only serve their own interests, 19% say they serve business interests, 11% say ‘those in power’ and a mere 4% say the Ukrainian people. These responses have not changed significantly since the 2008 survey.
  • There has been a significant increase in awareness of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) over the past year in Ukraine. In this survey 28% say they are aware of active NGOs, compared to only 15% in the 2008 survey. Forty percent are not aware of any NGO in Ukraine but this is down from 57% in the 2008 survey. Twenty-five percent do not know what an NGO is. The percentage of Ukrainians who believe NGOs are essential or necessary for Ukraine has also jumped significantly from 50% to 63%, while those who believe NGOs are not necessary has declined to 18% from 30%.
  • More Ukrainians say they would vote to join the EU (40%) than those who would vote against (29%). On the question of NATO membership, if a referendum was held on Ukraine joining NATO, most Ukrainians would vote against joining (56%) while only 15% would vote in favor of joining NATO. Eight percent are indecisive about the issue and 22% do not know enough about the issue to give a response.


Opinions on International Assistance

  • Awareness of international assistance to Ukraine has increased from 34% in 2008 to 46% in this survey. Forty-six percent are not aware of this type of assistance, down from 58% in 2008. The highest level of awareness is in western Ukraine (77%), while the lowest is in eastern Ukraine (31%). Less than 40% are aware in Crimea and southern Ukraine. More than three-quarters of Ukrainians support international assistance in the health and social development sector (84%) and for economic development (77%). Only a bare majority (53%) support international assistance in the democracy and governance sector. Opposition to this type of assistance is especially pronounced in the south and east of the country. When asked how international organizations can make their assistance more effective, 35% of those aware of these efforts say that international organizations should publicize their efforts more, 27% say they should employ more international experts while 23% cite more Ukrainian experts, 22% think they should work through Ukrainian organizations while 21%

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