Accessibility links

Ukraine: Pollster Maps Out Post-Revolutionary Moods

Protesters for and against the government in November 2004. A new poll found increased faith in the ballot box but accompanying rifts in society The Washington-based International Foundation for Election Systems (IFES) recently published its conclusions from a survey of 1,265 Ukrainians in late February that was devoted to perceptions of the Orange Revolution and its consequences. Pollsters explored perceptions of last year's presidential election, attitudes toward the mass antigovernment demonstrations that followed the second round of voting on 21 November, and postelection expectations for Ukraine.

Three of the clear findings that emerge from the IFES survey are that the Orange Revolution marked a zenith in the public's attention to politics, that a partisan rift has emerged over the country's democratic credentials, and that the events of November and December boosted citizens' faith in the ballot box and its outlook for the future. But while the polling agency highlighted that the events of late 2004 mark a defining moment in Ukrainian history and public opinion, it also noted significant sociopolitical cleavages that persist in the country.

The survey was the IFES's 13th nationwide survey in Ukraine since 1994 and was sponsored by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Simmering Distrust

It should be remembered that official results showed that opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko won 39.87 percent of the vote while his main rival, then Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, received 39.32 percent in the first round on 31 October. After the second-round vote on 21 November, with nearly 100 percent of the vote counted, the Central Election Commission announced that Yanukovych had a nearly 3-percent lead over Yushchenko. Yushchenko appealed to Ukrainians to organize popular resistance to what he believed was blatant election fraud. A month of antigovernment protests in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities led to a political compromise, and a repeat second round took place on 26 December in which Yushchenko beat Yanukovych 51.99 percent to 44.19 percent.

IFES found that more Ukrainians believe the 31 October and 21 November votes were unfair than think they were mostly or completely fair (44 percent to 33 percent concerning the October vote and 54 percent to 26 percent for the November vote). Meanwhile, a majority of Ukrainians (57 percent) believe the repeat vote in late December was fair, according to IFES.

Nearly two of three respondents (62 percent) support the replacement of the Central Election Commission after the 21 November vote. Some 53 percent say the new commission performed better; 52 percent believe the commission that replaced it was nonpartisan, while 48 percent harbor doubts about that question. The overwhelming majority of Yushchenko supporters (82 percent) say the new commission was nonpartisan, while just 8 percent of those who report voting for Yanukovych express such an opinion -- unsurprising perhaps, given Yanukovych's subsequent failure in the vote.

According to the IFES poll, 70 percent of those who participated in demonstrations think their use was a legitimate exercise of democratic rights. However, 28 percent of Ukrainians believe the sole aim of demonstrations was to create chaos. Of those polled, 46 percent believe the government's response to the demonstrations was generally correct, while 33 percent disagree with the government's response.

The Figures

The IFES drew a number of broad conclusions from its survey that suggest Ukrainians are following political events more carefully in hopes of seizing on a more participatory system.

The IFES noted that the Orange Revolution marked a sea change in the public interest in politics in Ukraine. The survey found that after the elections, 72 percent of Ukrainians claim to possess at least a moderate level of interest in politics, while that level was 59 percent shortly prior to the presidential election.

But there is a partisan divide over whether Ukraine is a democracy, according to IFES. Those who live in oblasts where Yushchenko won an especially high number of votes are more likely to say that Ukraine is a democracy than those who live in regions with a strong preference for Yanukovych (77 percent versus 28 percent). Curiously, a pre-election survey showed the opposite results: In October, those living in areas that supported Yushchenko were much less likely to describe Ukraine as a democracy than oblasts with strong preferences for Yanukovych (14 percent versus 34 percent).
While the IFES concluded that the Orange Revolution marks a defining moment in Ukrainian history and Ukrainian public opinion through a major shift in social attitudes toward democracy and a more active participation of citizens in politics, the pollster also noted important sociopolitical cleavages in Ukraine's public opinion regarding the events of November-December 2004.

The Orange Revolution has also strengthened Ukrainians' faith in the power of the ballot box. A majority of Ukrainians (53 percent) now say that voting gives them a chance to influence decision-making in the country. In October 2004, the same proportion of people said voting can make a difference as disagreed with that view (47 percent each).

Regarding expectations for the future, IFES concluded that 43 percent of Ukrainians believe the 2004 presidential election placed Ukraine on a path toward stability and prosperity, while 12 percent believe that Ukraine is headed toward instability. Economically speaking, 57 percent of Ukrainians describe the situation as bad or very bad, while just 9 percent perceive it as good or very good. In the 2003 survey, 86 percent described the economy as bad.

The Orange Revolution also appears to have ushered in widespread optimism, IFES found. Majorities expect to see at least some improvements in relations with Western countries (70 percent), the economy (65 percent), the fight against corruption (63 percent), respect for human rights (59 percent), and political stability (54 percent) over the next two years.

Institutions that played key roles in the Orange Revolution have seen an improvement in their public standing since the Yushchenko victory. More Ukrainians now express positive impressions of the Verkhovna Rada, the judicial system, the media, and nongovernmental organizations than before the presidential election in October. Four in 10 Ukrainians now have a better impression of the media than they did at the start of the election process, versus 11 percent who view the media more negatively and 38 percent whose views have not changed substantially. Impressions of the legislature, the Verkhovna Rada, have improved among 42 percent of Ukrainians versus just 15 percent whose opinions have worsened and 33 percent who say their perceptions are unchanged.

IFES found in February that 65 percent of Ukrainians have confidence in President Yushchenko, while 25 percent say they have little or no confidence in him. (Among those who voted for Yanukovych, just 17 percent say they have confidence in the new president.) Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko enjoys the confidence of 57 percent of Ukrainians.

Among those for whom the Orange Revolution represented a setback -- at least in the short term -- 60 percent of the country has little or no confidence in former Prime Minister and failed candidate Yanukovych, according to IFES, while 27 percent express confidence in him. Confidence in former President Leonid Kuchma has plummeted from a woeful 22 percent in the IFES 2003 survey to 6 percent in February; 86 percent of Ukrainians say they have little or no confidence in Kuchma.

Societal Rifts

While the IFES concluded that the Orange Revolution marks a defining moment in Ukrainian history and Ukrainian public opinion through a major shift in social attitudes toward democracy and a more active participation of citizens in politics, the pollster also noted important sociopolitical cleavages in Ukraine's public opinion regarding the events of November-December 2004.

In its analysis of these cleavages, IFES chooses the self-explanatory terms "Revolutionary Enthusiasts" (48 percent of the population), "Revolutionary Opponents" (23 percent), and "Revolutionary Agnostics" (for those holding the middle ground between the previous two groups and characterized by a wait-and-see attitude; 29 percent of the population). According to IFES, there are no major differences based on gender or education among those three groups. In terms of ethnicity, the Revolutionary Enthusiasts tend to identify themselves as ethnic Ukrainians, while the majority of the country's ethnic Russians falls into the Revolutionary Opponents group. The Revolutionary Agnostics are an ethnically diverse group. Pensioners and the elderly are overrepresented among the Opponents, while a larger proportion of students falls into the group of Agnostics than is in the general population.

In terms of political geography, Revolutionary Enthusiasts live mainly in oblasts with moderate or strong support for Yushchenko and in the western portion of Ukraine. Revolutionary Agnostics tend to live in oblasts with moderate support for both candidates, fall nearly equally on the side of Yushchenko or Yanukovych, and a plurality lives in the eastern part of the country. Revolutionary Opponents tend to live nearly exclusively in the east, in oblasts with strong or moderate support for Yanukovych.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

If you are in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine and hold a Russian passport or are a stateless person residing permanently in Russia or the Russia-controlled parts of Ukraine, please note that you could face fines or imprisonment for sharing, liking, commenting on, or saving our content, or for contacting us.

To find out more, click here.