Growing Western concerns about a resurgent Russia have some experts asking how the West lost Russia as an unquestionably pro-Western partner. John Thornhill, a contributor with the Financial Times, argues that pervasive anti-Westernism throughout Russian society drives it away from Western allegiances.
However, when Gallup recently asked Russian respondents which political system is the most suitable for their country, 40% favored a system that is similar to the old Soviet one, but is more democratic and market-based.
Tied for the second most popular option, though only favored by about half as many respondents, are a Soviet system, similar to what was in place in Russia prior to “perestroika” (18%), and a Western-style democratic republic (18%). Ten percent of Russians surveyed favored a strong authoritarian system that places order above freedom.
Gallup first asked Russians if they believe democracy is important for their development of their country. A majority of 60% said so. However, not surprisingly, this 60% was disproportionately made up of those who reporting that they preferred a Western-style democracy (79%) rather than the old Soviet system (43%).
Gallup then asked how satisfied they are with the way democracy works in Russia. Respondents are split, with many saying they are neither satisfied nor dissatisfied with they way it works. Russians who prefer a Soviet system are more likely to be very or somewhat dissatisfied with how democracy works, and those who prefer a Western-style democracy are more likely to be very or somewhat satisfied.
Lastly, Russians were asked about the importance of active political opposition in their country, and the majority feel it is somwhat or very important. Those who say a Western-style democracy is most suitable are more likely than those who say a Soviet style system is suitable to believe it is very important that the country have active political opposition.
Russians in the poorest income quintile are more likely to prefer the Soviet system than a Western-style democracy, while those in the highest income quintile are more likely to favor a Western-style democracy rather than the old Soviet system.
A report by the Institute of Modern Development, a think tank led by President Dmitry Medvedev, claimed the most vehement opposition to Russian democratization has come from the socioeconomic elite, and that the lower classes are the most open to liberal reforms. Gallup data show the opposite to be true.
Gallup also found an association between Western-style democracy and Russian leadership. Russian respondents who favor a Western-style democracy are more likely to approve of Russia’s leadership than those who favor a Soviet system (the respective approval percentages were 73% and 54%).
Evidence that Russians do associate the values of free market economies and democratic governance with Western-style democracy means there is hope for Western leaders who believe their countries can serve as models for democratic reform within Russia.