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Moscow News
January 1-7, 2003
2002: Year of Trials and Cataclysms
Yuri Levada

Fifteen years ago (December 1987) the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion on Social and Economic Questions, VTsIOM, was founded, and so this is the 15th time VTsIOM has conducted a special survey to see what the country's citizens think about the year just over, and what their hopes for the new year are. Data are in percentage points

Another Difficult Year

Of the 15 New Year's polls, only one, in 2001, pointed to an upbeat trend in public opinion: On balance, the year proved at least not harder than the previous one. Now we are back to the usual mass perception that the year has been harder that the previous one (Table 1). Answers to other questions confirm that the public mood has shifted toward mild pessimism. Thus, in 2001, 17% of respondents said the year had been "good" or "very good," as compared to 13% in 2002; in 2001, 14% said the year had been "bad," as compared to 21% in 2002. "Average" evaluations prevail, although their share has fallen (from 66% to 63%). Only 6% of respondents described 2002 as "successful" and another 24% as "calm." Nearly half (47%) called it "disturbing," 13% "terrible," and 8% "disastrous." Analysis shows that negative evaluations are related to the perception of public events and the general situation in the country rather than to people's financial status or family income.

Catastrophes Far and Near

Just as in the past, public memory of the outgoing year's major events is more often that of disasters, losses, and catastrophes than joys and achievements. Thus the 2001 list opened with the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States (almost 49% of respondents), the runners-up being the Kursk nuclear sub lifting operation, the U.S.-led military operations in Afghanistan, the downing of a Tu-154 airliner with a Ukrainian missile, and the de-orbiting of the Mir space station; the only bright spot in the top 10 events of that year was pension and wage hikes for the public sector employees. Table 2 shows the top 10 most important events of 2002. The list is also dominated by disasters and accidents - this time around, however, directly affecting Russia and its citizens, and therefore all the more palpable and tragic. In 2002, nation-wide mourning was declared twice - following the downing of a Mi-26 helicopter and the death of hostages at the Dubrovka theater center in Moscow, both tragedies being linked to Chechnya. The sporting events were overshadowed by high-profile scandals (at the 2002 Winter Olympics), failures, and even street riots (in downtown Moscow, in the wake of a soccer match between Russia and Japan). The only "neutral" event on the list is the nationwide census.

People In the Limelight

The 2002 Man of the Year List:

1. Vladimir Putin 53
2. Sergei Shoigu 10
3. George Bush 5
4. Sergei Bodrov 4
5. Iosif Kobzon 4
6. Gennady Zyuganov 3
7. Maxim Galkin 3
8. Mikhail Kasyanov 3
9. Vladimir Zhirinovsky 3
10. Yuri Luzhkov 3

Aman Tuleev, Boris Nemtsov, and Leonid Roshal each fell just a little short (by fractions of a percentage point) of 3% with Grigory Yavlinsky and Alexander Lukashenko scoring 2% each. It is noteworthy that the three names at the top of the list are the same as in the previous year, only in a different order (in 2001: V. Putin, George Bush, and S. Shoigu). All of them ended up in the focus of public attention by virtue of emergency, catastrophic circumstances. This also, in large measure, applies to other persons on the respondents' list.

The 2002 Woman of the Year List

1. Irina Khakamada 20
2. Valentina Matvienko 18
3. Alla Pugacheva 12
4. Ella Pamfilova 15
5. Lyudmila Putina 6
6. Lyudmila Sliska 4
7. Alsu 4
8. Sofia Rotaru 3
9. Alina Kabaeva 3
10. Yelena Berezhnaya 2

For a fourth year in a row, the top three names on the list have remained unchanged, the only difference being their approval rating (in 2000 and 2001, V. Matvienko was in first position). Furthermore, the first seven positions are still held by the same people as a year ago. Presumably, the range of women in the public eye is too narrow.

President Putin shows exceptionally high approval ratings with 52% of respondents calling him the man of the year in 2001, as compared to 53% in 2002. No other person is anywhere near. Surveys in the past two years give an indication of the way the mechanism of public sympathy works: Credit (say, for raising wages) is given to the president while all blame (for rising prices, etc.) tends to be put on the government. It is also indicative that senior government officials or chiefs of law enforcement agencies, so critical in the present-day situation, are not on the list. Another important conclusion is that the "mono-centrism" of popular sympathies is strongly affected by emergency situations. The latest jump in the president's approval rating, up to 83% (in November), clearly resulted from a sense of confusion, insecurity, and bitterness over the hostage siege in Moscow. Two months later, by December, the emotional strain relaxed, and presidential approval rating fell back to an old (September) level of 78%.

What We Expect

2003 Expectations

Following is a table of popular expectations in the past decade (Table 3). There is less confidence that things will get better, but on the other hand, there is more hope for the better or that, at least, the situation could not get much worse. A year before, 3% of respondents expected the new year to be "very good," as compared to 1% now. The share of those hoping that the year will be just "good" or "average" has increased somewhat (from 26% to 28% and from 44% to 47%, respectively). Only 12% believe that it will be bad or very bad (as compared to 13% last year). The 2002 survey suggested that in the following year public opinion was gearing up not only for success stories but also for rigorous trials, in particular, of the evolving "people-political establishment" system as well as the stability of the system of international relations in the wake of September 11, 2001. There have been many trials, pointing to the instability of the structures involved. It would be unrealistic to expect that such trials - in some spheres or other - will bypass us in the new year.

Table 1. What Has the Outgoing Year Been Like to You and Your Family, Compared to the Previous Year?

Years 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 '01 '02
Harder 79 84 93 88 82 65 58 55 62 37 83 51 36 26 30
Easier 7 4 1 3 4 11 12 14 11 17 3 16 26 26 21
The same 14 11 7 9 14 24 31 32 27 46 14 33 38 48 49

Table 2. shows the top 10 most important events of 2002

1. The hostage drama at a theater center in Moscow 52
2. The avalanche in the Karmadon Gorge and the death of S. Bodrov Jr.'s filming crew 26
3. The nationwide census in October 26
4. Air accidents in Russia 25
5. Floods and storms on the Caucasus Black Sea coast 25
6. The loss of a Bashkirian Airlines jet with children on board in an air collision over Germany 24
7. The death of Krasnoyarsk Governor A. Lebed 22
8. Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City 20
9. Hurricanes and floods in Central Europe 18
10. The world soccer championship in Korea and Japan 14

Table 3. Will the New Year Be Better Than the Previous One?

Years 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 00 01 02 03
Definitely 4 6 6 5 5 4 2 6 6 7 5
I hope so 35 42 36 33 28 31 27 46 51 42 45
Just as good 12 10 15 17 12 20 14 17 18 22 24
Nothing is likely to change 21 23 20 26 30 25 27 18 17 20 19
It will probably be worse 23 11 15 12 19 9 23 6 4 5 4
Not sure 6 8 8 8 7 11 8 7 4 4 4
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