(Bloomberg) — Nearly six in ten Russians want “decisive and full-scale changes” in the country amid growing discontent with the authorities over living standards, according to new research.
The proportion wanting change reached 59% this year, up from 42% in 2017, the study by the Carnegie Moscow Center and the Levada Center polling organization showed. After five years of stagnating incomes in Russia, 24% said they wanted higher wages, pensions and living standards, followed by 13% who sought a “change of government, president, or authorities.”
The survey of 1,600 Russians conducted in July also found that 53% believed that necessary reforms were possible only through “serious changes to the political system,” compared to 34% who thought they could be achieved under the existing structure.
Only 4% identified democratic reforms as necessary, however, while 45% wanted power concentrated in the hands of one leader and 74% favored active government intervention in the economy to control prices.
“If the desire for political change continues to grow at the same rate as in the past two years, there may soon be massive demand for political freedoms and political choice,” Denis Volkov and Andrei Kolesnikov, who conducted the research, wrote in the report. “The state is clearly not ready for this, it is moving in the direction of greater authoritarianism.”
The report emerged after Moscow witnessed the largest anti-Kremlin demonstrations in seven years this summer, when the authorities refused to allow opposition candidates to contest city council elections. Much of the disillusionment appears to have set in at the start of President Vladimir Putin’s fourth term in May last year, however, when the researchers found that 57% favored major reform in a similar survey.
“The desire for change is always present in society,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday on a conference call, in response to a question on the study. “It’s another question whether somebody wants abrupt changes or changes that are consistent, smooth, harmonious.”
Recent polls have shown that Putin’s personal rating has stabilized after taking a hit last year over unpopular pension reforms, though it remains far below the peaks reached following Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.
Amid rising pressure to deliver on promises of better living standards, the government is boosting spending following years of ultra-tight monetary and fiscal policy that limited the damage from slumping oil prices and international sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. The central bank has also accelerated interest-rate cuts that may boost the sluggish economy, even as Governor Elvira Nabiullina has warned that growth will be limited without structural reforms.
The study shows that “people want radical changes but are scared of the social cost,” Volkov and Kolesnikov wrote.
To contact the reporters on this story: Ilya Arkhipov in Moscow at firstname.lastname@example.org;Anya Andrianova in Moscow at email@example.com
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Gregory L. White at firstname.lastname@example.org, Tony Halpin
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