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The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research

The Intersection of Insight and Journalism

Public Opinion in Russia: Russians’ Attitudes on Foreign Affairs and Social Issues

Issue Brief


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In a nationally representative survey of Russia, the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds Russians’ attitudes toward the United States and President Barack Obama are extremely unfavorable and have grown sharply more negative in the last couple of years.[1] While opinions toward the European Union also worsened, Russians increasingly view China favorably. Russians see China as an ally and the United States and the European Union as adversaries; however, most Russians believe their country should make at least some effort to improve its relationship with the United States and the European Union. Many Russians want their country to be active in global affairs, and they believe hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics and 2018 World Cup improves their country’s international image. However, the public is divided over the impacts of these international sporting events on the Russian economy.

The survey, funded by NORC at the University of Chicago, also shows that a majority of Russians do not think society should accept lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) people, and the results indicate the public has grown less tolerant of LGBT people in the last two years.

The AP-NORC Center directed this study to explore the Russian public’s attitudes toward both domestic and international affairs, and it includes a nationally representative in-person survey of 2,008 Russian adults between November 22 and December 7, 2014. This report highlihgts findings about Russians’ opinions toward foreign affairs and social issues at a time of increasing tension between Russia and Western nations.

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The United States and the European Union continue to impose stiff economic sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in March 2014 and subsequent support of Ukrainian separatists. At the same time, Russian President Vladimir Putin accuses Western nations of interfering in Ukraine to help remove Victor Yanukovych, the former president who fled to Russia in February 2014. Putin has also repeatedly told the Russian public that the economic sanctions are part of a broader strategy by the United States and its allies to intentionally weaken Russia.

Russia was also in the international limelight as it hosted the most recent winter Olympic games and is slated to host the next World Cup. The country is in the process of building 12 new stadiums for the 2018 World Cup, and it spent about $50 billion on the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. [2] [3]

The 2014 Olympics also drew significant international attention to social developments in Russia. While many European and North American nations are granting more LGBT rights, Russia passed a federal law in June 2013 banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors.

The results from this study, summarized below, offer policymakers around the world a unique understanding of Russian attitudes and shed light on public sentiment toward the country’s foreign affairs.

  • Most Russians view the United States and President Obama unfavorably, and attitudes toward both have grown more negative since 2012. Eighty-one percent of Russians have an unfavorable opinion of Obama, and only 2 percent have a favorable view of him.
  • Public opinion of the European Union has declined sharply since 2012, and nearly half of Russians have an unfavorable view of the European Union (49 percent).
  • Russians have an increasingly positive view of China, and a majority rate the country favorably (58 percent).
  • Majorities of Russians see China as an ally and the United States and the European Union as adversaries; however, significant majorities say Russia should make at least some effort to improve its relationship with the United States and the European Union.
  • Older Russians, men, and those whose primary source of news is state-owned TV tend to have less positive views about Western countries than other Russians.
  • A majority of Russians believe the country is a stronger international power than 10 years ago, and about 2 in 3 say Russia should play a more active role in world affairs.
  • Most Russians say hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics helped the country’s international image, and many expect a similar result from hosting the 2018 World Cup.
  • Public opinion is divided about the impacts of hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics and the 2018 World Cup on the Russian economy.
  • Tolerance of LGBT individuals has declined. Sixty-three percent say LGBT people should not be accepted in society, 20 percent believe LGBT people should be accepted, and 14 percent say they do not know. In 2012, 38 percent of Russians reported that they would not want a homosexual as a neighbor; in 2014, 51 percent say the same about LGBT people.
  • About 6 in 10 Russians believe people are not completely free to say anything they want about politics, and beliefs about freedom of speech have not changed in two years.


The Russian Public Holds Unfavorable Views Of The United States And Ukraine, Mixed Feelings Toward Several Western European Nations, And A Positive Opinion Of China.
More Russians have negative opinions about the United States and Ukraine than they do about countries such as China, France, and Germany.

More than 6 in 10 Russians have unfavorable views of the United States (65 percent) and Ukraine (61 percent), while few rate the United States (6 percent) or Ukraine (11 percent) favorably.

Russian opinion is more divided when it comes to Western European countries. More Russians have negative views than positive ones about the United Kingdom (31 percent unfavorable vs. 18 percent favorable) and Germany (30 percent unfavorable vs. 20 percent favorable). The Russian public is split on France (26 percent favorable vs. 23 percent unfavorable).

Russian opinion toward Israel is also divided (21 percent favorable vs. 18 percent unfavorable), while it has more positive than negative feelings toward Syria (23 percent favorable vs. 13 percent unfavorable).

A majority of Russians have a favorable view of China (58 percent), and only 5 percent have a negative opinion of the country.

About half of Russians have neither a favorable nor unfavorable view of the United Kingdom (46 percent), Germany (47 percent), France (47 percent), Syria (53 percent), and Israel (55 percent).

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Russians’ Attitudes Toward The United States And The European Union Have Grown More Negative In The Last Two Years While Views Of China Are Increasingly Favorable.
Compared to 2012, significantly more Russians have unfavorable views of the United States and several European countries.

More than twice as many Russians have an unfavorable opinion of the United States than two years ago (65 percent vs. 25 percent). Moreover, 81 percent of Russians have an unfavorable opinion of President Obama, compared with a 23 percent unfavorable rate in 2012. Only 2 percent of Russians have a positive opinion of Obama.

Public sentiment toward the European Union has shifted from weakly favorable to strongly unfavorable since 2012. Nearly half of Russians have an unfavorable view of the European Union (49 percent), and only 8 percent have a favorable opinion of it. In contrast, 11 percent of Russians said they had a negative opinion of the European Union two years ago, and 24 percent said they had a positive opinion.

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Russians also have more negative views than two years ago about several European countries and leaders. Eighty-four percent of Russians have an unfavorable view of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, while only 24 percent of Russians held such a feeling toward his predecessor Viktor Yanukovych in 2012. In addition, significantly more Russians have unfavorable views of German Chancellor Angela Merkel than two years ago (55 percent vs. 8 percent).

Likewise, more Russians view the United Nations unfavorably (38 percent) than they did two years ago (14 percent).

At the same time that Russians’ opinions about the West have become more negative, the public’s views toward China have grown more favorable.

More than half of Russians view China favorably (58 percent), compared with a 41 percent favorability rating in 2012. Likewise, 36 percent of Russians rate Chinese President Xi Jinping positively, compared with just a 15 percent favorability rating for his predecessor, Hu Jintao, in 2012.

In the last two years, there has been little change in the favorability ratings for Israel (20 percent vs. 21 percent) while there has been an increase in the favorability ratings for Syria (12 percent vs. 23 percent) among Russians.

Russians see China as an ally, and the United States and the European Union as adversaries. More than 7 in 10 Russians say China is an ally (71 percent), and only 1 in 10 say the country is an adversary. In contrast, nearly 7 in 10 Russians view the European Union as an adversary (69 percent), and 1 in 10 say it is an ally (10 percent).

Nine in 10 Russians say the United States is an adversary, and only 3 percent say it is an ally, which is a significant change from 2012 when 56 percent said adversary and 22 percent said ally.

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Most Russians Believe Their Country Should Make Efforts To Improve Its Relationship With The United States, The European Union, And China.
Despite most Russians viewing the United States and the European Union as adversaries, about 4 in 5 Russians say their country should make at least some effort to improve its relationship with the Americans and Europeans.

Nearly 8 in 10 Russians say their country should make at least some effort to improve relations with the United States and the European Union, including nearly half who say their country should make a great deal or a lot of effort to improve relations with the United States (49 percent) and the European Union (46 percent).

Only about 1 in 5 Russians report their country should make little or no effort to improve its relations with the United States (21 percent) and the European Union (19 percent).

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A majority of Russians also support efforts to improve relations with China. Thirty-three percent say Russia should make a great deal or a lot of effort to improve its relationship with China, 40 percent say some effort, and 26 percent say a little or no effort.

Men, Older Russians, And Those With Lower Incomes Tend To Have More Negative Views About Western Countries And Leaders Than Women, Younger Russians, And Those With Higher Incomes.
There are significant gender and age differences in Russians’ opinions about foreign affairs. Men are more likely than women to have an unfavorable view of: the United Nations (43 percent vs. 34 percent), the European Union (53 percent vs. 46 percent), Germany (33 percent vs. 27 percent), the United Kingdom (34 percent vs. 28 percent), Israel (21 percent vs. 16 percent), and France (25 percent vs. 20 percent).

Men are less likely than women to say the country should make a great deal or a lot of effort to improve its relationship with the United States (44 percent vs. 53 percent) and the European Union (42 percent vs. 49 percent).

In contrast, men have a more favorable opinion of Chinese President Jinping (39 percent) than women (33 percent).

Younger people tend to have less negative views about Western nations and leaders, while older people have more positive views about China’s president.

Russians who are 35 years old and over are more likely than those between the ages of 18 and 34 years to have an unfavorable view of: the European Union (51 percent vs. 45 percent), President Obama (84 percent vs. 75 percent), the United Nations (41 percent vs. 32 percent), German Chancellor Merkel (58 percent vs. 48 percent), and Ukrainian President Poroshenko (87 percent vs. 80 percent).

More Russians with high incomes have positive views of Western nations than those with lower incomes. Russians with incomes of more than 34,000 rubles a month are more likely than those with incomes of less than 17,000 rubles a month to have a favorable view of Israel (31 percent vs. 18 percent), Germany ( 27 percent vs. 18 percent), and the United States (12 percent vs. 6 percent).

Russians with high incomes (more than 34,000 rubles a month) are also more likely to say the country should make a great deal or a lot of effort to improve relations with China (45 percent) than those with incomes less than 17,000 rubles a month (32 percent).

Russians’ News Consumption And Main News Source Relate To Their Views About Foreign Affairs.
How Russians obtain their news about the country is associated with their opinions about international relations. Three in 4 Russians say state-owned TV stations are their main source of news about what is going on in the country, while 14 percent say the internet, and 5 percent say independently owned TV stations. When asked how often they read, watch, or hear the news, 56 percent of Russians say at least once a day, 22 percent say several times a week, and 21 percent say weekly or less.

Russians whose main news source is state-owned TV have less favorable views toward several Western nations than those with another main news source. Five percent of state-owned TV viewers have a favorable view of the United States, compared with 9 percent of those with another main source of news. Similarly, Russians whose main source of news is state-owned TV are slightly more likely than those with another news source to say the United States is an adversary (91 percent vs. 87 percent).

Russians whose main source of news is state-owned TV are also less likely than those with other news sources to have a favorable view of the United Kingdom (16 percent vs. 24 percent), Germany (18 percent vs. 25 percent), and Israel (20 percent vs. 25 percent).

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The frequency with which Russians follow news is also associated with some beliefs about foreign nations. Russians who follow the news daily are more likely than those who follow news weekly or less to have a favorable view of China (64 percent vs. 45 percent), Syria (25 percent vs. 16 percent), and Israel (23 percent vs. 18 percent).

Moscow Residents Are More Supportive Of Improving Relations With The United States And The European Union Than Is The Rest Of The Country.
In Moscow, a majority of residents support improving relations with the United States and the European Union. Moscow residents are more likely than the rest of the country to report that Russia should make a great deal or a lot of effort to improve its relations with the United States (61 percent vs. 48 percent) and the European Union (55 percent vs. 45 percent).

Although very few Moscow residents see the United States as an ally, those living in the city are three times more likely to say the United States is an ally (6 percent) than people in the rest of the country (2 percent).

A Majority Of Russians Say Their Country Has Become A Stronger International Power In The Last Decade, And They Think It Should Play A More Active Role In World Affairs.
A majority of Russians believe their country has strengthened its international position in recent years. Six in 10 Russians say their country is a stronger international power than 10 years ago, 12 percent say it is about the same, and 19 percent say it is a weaker power. More Russians see the country’s power increasing than in 2012 when 53 percent said it had strengthened its position in the previous decade.

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Sixty-five percent of those who follow the news daily say the country’s position is stronger, compared with 51 percent of those who follow the news weekly or less.

Many Russians favor an active foreign policy. Nearly two-thirds of Russians (64 percent) report that their country should play a more active role in world affairs, 31 percent say neither more nor less active, and only 5 percent say the country should play a less active role.

One foreign policy issue for Russians is defining borders. Six in 10 Russians say at least a few parts of neighboring countries, other than Ukraine, rightfully belong to Russia, including 13 percent who say many parts of neighboring countries belong to Russia. These beliefs are similar to Russians’ attitudes toward areas in or near Ukraine, as 59 percent of Russians say at least a few parts of Ukraine rightfully belong to their country.

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In contrast, about half as many Russians say parts of their country rightfully belong to neighboring countries (32 percent).


Russians Believe Hosting International Sporting Events Improves The Country’s Image, But The Public Is Divided About The Impact Of Such Competitions On The Russian Economy.
Most Russians believe hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi improved the country’s international image, and they are expecting the same outcome when the 2018 World Cup takes place in Russia. Seventy-eight percent say the Olympics had a positive or very positive effect on Russia’s international image, and only 2 percent say it had a negative effect.

Seven in 10 Russians expect the World Cup will have a positive effect on the country’s international image, and only 3 percent expect it to have a negative effect.

Russians are divided about the economic impacts of the 2014 Olympics and the 2018 World Cup on their country. Fifty-one percent report the Olympics had a positive economic effect, 29 percent say no effect, and 20 percent say a negative effect.

Public opinion is similar regarding the potential economic effects of the World Cup. Half say it will have a positive effect, 1 in 3 say no effect, and fewer than 2 in 10 say negative effect (17 percent).

Younger people are more optimistic about the impact of the World Cup on the country. Russians between the ages of 18 and 34 years old are more likely than those 55 or older to say the World Cup will have a positive effect on the country’s economy (54 percent vs. 43 percent) and international image (74 percent vs. 65 percent).

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Soccer fans are also more optimistic about the effects of hosting the World Cup. Sixty-four percent of soccer fans say the World Cup will have a positive economic effect on Russia, compared with 46 percent of those who prefer to watch another sport. Likewise, 82 percent of soccer fans say the World Cup will help Russia’s international image, compared with 68 percent of those who prefer to watch another sport.

When asked about their favorite sport to watch, 19 percent of Russians say soccer, which is the second most popular sport to watch behind only figure skating (27 percent). Nine percent say hockey is their favorite sport to watch; 6 percent report skiing, snowboarding, or biathlon; and 5 percent say gymnastics.


Russians Appear Less Tolerant Of LGBT People Than Two Years Ago, And A Majority Do Not Accept LGBT People.
Hosting the 2014 Winter Olympics placed a spotlight on a 2013 federal law banning the “propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations” to minors. A majority of Russians report that LGBT people should not be accepted in Russian society. And, tolerance of LGBT individuals has declined over the last two years, while tolerance of other groups remained relatively steady.

Nearly 2 in 3 Russians say LGBT people should not be accepted in society (63 percent). One in 5 Russians believe LGBT people should be accepted in society, and 14 percent say they do not know.

Sixty-five percent of those whose main news source is state-owned TV say society should not accept LGBT people, compared with 57 percent of those who have another main news source.

Opinions on the issue differ by gender and age. Men are more likely than women to say LGBT people should not be accepted (70 percent vs. 58 percent). Older people are also less tolerant. Seventy-three percent of those 55 years or older say LGBT people should not be accepted, compared with 59 percent of adults between 35 and 54 years old and 60 percent of adults between 18 and 34 years old.

Despite these differences in acceptance of LGBT people by gender and age, majorities of men, women, young people, and old people all say society should not accept LGBT people.

When asked to choose from a list which groups of people they would not want as their neighbors, majorities of Russians say they would not want to live near drug addicts (90 percent), heavy drinkers (76 percent), and people with a criminal record (62 percent). Only 14 percent say they would rather not live near people of a different race/ethnicity, 6 percent report Christians, and 5 percent say Jews. Russians’ tolerance toward these different demographic groups has not changed much in the last two years, and both the least and most identified groups remain the same.

However, in 2012, 38 percent of Russians reported that they would not want a homosexual as a neighbor, and in 2014, 51 percent say the same about a LGBT person. That 13-percentage point increase in intolerance was significantly more than the change for any of the other 10 groups asked about on the surveys.

Overall, Russians who express an intolerant view toward LGBT people are also more likely to hold anti-Western views. For example, 67 percent of those who indicate they would not want an LGBT neighbor hold an unfavorable view of the United States. This figure drops by 5 percentage points to 62 percent for those who do not indicate an issue with an LGBT neighbor.

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Majority Of Russians Do Not Believe People In Their Country Have Complete Freedom Of Speech.
About 6 in 10 Russians say people in their country are not completely free to say anything they want about politics, and there has been little change in opinions about freedom of speech in Russia since 2012.

Thirty-five percent of Russians say people are generally free to say anything about politics, even if it is critical of powerful interests. Nearly half (46 percent) report that people in the country are mostly free to say anything they want about politics, but there are some things that people will get into trouble for saying. Fourteen percent of Russians report people have to be very careful about just about everything they say about politics.

These beliefs are very similar to 2012 when 35 percent said people were generally free to say anything, 47 percent said people were mostly free to say anything, and 13 percent said people have to be very careful about just about everything they say.


Many Russians Support Competition, And A Majority Wants To See More Income Equality.
The Russian public is supportive of competition. More than 2 in 3 Russians report competition is good (68 percent), and only 22 percent say it is harmful. Public opinion is nearly unchanged from two years ago when 67 percent said competition is good and 22 percent said competition is harmful.

Russians between the ages of 18 to 34 years old are more likely than those 55 years old and over to say competition is good (75 percent vs. 60 percent). Seventy-seven percent of Russians with a university or post-graduate degree say competition is good, compared with 62 percent of those without a university education.

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Fewer Russians see income disparities as a problem than two years ago, but a majority still would rather see more equality. Nearly 2 in 3 Russians say incomes should be more equal, but fewer say that now than in 2012 (65 percent vs. 72 percent). One in 4 Russians say large income differences are okay.

About The Study

Methodology
This survey, funded by NORC at the University of Chicago, was conducted by NORC with fieldwork by GfK Russia between the dates of November 22 and December 7, 2014. Staff from NORC and The Associated Press collaborated on all aspects of the study.

The survey featured a nationally representative, multistage cluster, random route-sample of adults 18 years and older in Russia. The poll was conducted with in-person interviews of 2,008 adults.

At the first stage, the population was stratified into six groups, based on population size, for each of eight different regions of the country (Central, North-West, Southern, North-Caucasian, Volga, Ural, Siberian, and Far Eastern). In the end, 142 different groups were selected across 75 different regions. At the second stage, secondary sample units were randomly selected from a full list of election districts. At the third stage, a starting address point was assigned for each election district. On average, six interviews were conducted in each sampling point. Within-household selection was based on the last birthday method.


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Interviewers selected and visited 14,021 addresses and had a 57 percent contact rate. Among those contacted, 21 percent responded. Including non-contacts, the cumulative response rate is 14 percent. The overall margin of error +/- 2.4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level (including the design effect).

Sampling weights were calculated to adjust for sample design aspects (such as unequal probabilities of selection) and for nonresponse bias arising from differential response rates across various demographic groups. Poststratification variables included age, sex, and region of the country. The data are weighted to reflect the Russian population based on the 2010 Russian Census.

All analyses were conducted using STATA (version 13), which allows for adjustment of standard errors for complex sample designs. All differences reported between subgroups of the Russian population are at the 95 percent level of statistical significance, meaning that there is only a 5 percent (or lower) probability that the observed differences could be attributed to chance variation in sampling. A comprehensive listing of all study questions, complete with tabulations of top-level results for each question, is available on the AP-NORC Center website: www.apnorc.org.  

Contributing Researchers

From NORC at the University of Chicago
Jennifer Benz
David Sterrett
Trevor Tompson
Nicole Willcoxon
Daniel Malato
Emily Alvarez

From the Associated Press
Emily Swanson

About The Associated Press-NORC Center For Public Affairs Research

The AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research taps into the power of social science research and the highest-quality journalism to bring key information to people across the nation and throughout the world. www.apnorc.org

The Associated Press (AP) is the essential global news network, delivering fast, unbiased news from every corner of the world to all media platforms and formats. Founded in 1846, AP today is the most trusted source of independent news and information. On any given day, more than half the world's population sees news from AP. www.ap.org 


NORC at the University of Chicago is an independent research institution that delivers reliable data and rigorous analysis to guide critical programmatic, business, and policy decisions. Since 1941, NORC has conducted groundbreaking studies, created and applied innovative methods and tools, and advanced principles of scientific integrity and collaboration. Today, government, corporate, and nonprofit clients around the world partner with NORC to transform increasingly complex information into useful knowledge. www.norc.org

The two organizations have established the AP-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research to conduct, analyze, and distribute social science research in the public interest on newsworthy topics, and to use the power of journalism to tell the stories that research reveals.

Footnotes.

  1. The AP-GfK Poll: Russia. Interviews with 1,675 adults between May 25 and June 10, 2012. http://surveys.ap.org/data/GfK/AP-GfK%20RUSSIA%20Poll%20Posted%20Topline_Drugs%20story.pdf
  2. Leicester, John. “Costly, political, successful: Sochi Olympics end.” The Associated Press. February 23, 2014. http://bigstory.ap.org/article/farewell-sochi-russia-closes-costliest-olympics
  3. “A look at the venues hosting 2018 World Cup.” The Associated Press. July 15, 2014. http://www.apnewsarchive.com/2014/A_look_at_the_venues_hosting_2018_World_Cup/id-3a3a810d0d0e4f11a993f411f0bb9c79

 Navigation

- The Russian Public Holds Unfavorable Views Of The United States And Ukraine, Mixed Feelings Toward Several Western European Nations, And A Positive Opinion Of China.

- Russians’ Attitudes Toward The United States And The European Union Have Grown More Negative In The Last Two Years While Views Of China Are Increasingly Favorable.

- Most Russians Believe Their Country Should Make Efforts To Improve Its Relationship With The United States, The European Union, And China.

- Men, Older Russians, And Those With Lower Incomes Tend To Have More Negative Views About Western Countries And Leaders Than Women, Younger Russians, And Those With Higher Incomes.

- Russians’ News Consumption And Main News Source Relate To Their Views About Foreign Affairs.

- Moscow Residents Are More Supportive Of Improving Relations With The United States And The European Union Than Is The Rest Of The Country.

- A Majority Of Russians Say Their Country Has Become A Stronger International Power In The Last Decade, And They Think It Should Play A More Active Role In World Affairs.

- Russians Believe Hosting International Sporting Events Improves The Country’s Image, But The Public Is Divided About The Impact Of Such Competitions On The Russian Economy.

- Russians Appear Less Tolerant Of Lgbt People Than Two Years Ago, And A Majority Do Not Accept LGBT People.

- Majority Of Russians Do Not Believe People In Their Country Have Complete Freedom Of Speech.

- Many Russians Support Competition, And A Majority Wants To See More Income Equality.

- About This Study.

- Footnotes.