BBG Watch Commentary
We have come across an excellent and sophisticated analysis of Putin’s Russia in an op-ed in The Washington Post by Christopher Walker and Robert Orttung. The article analyzed the meaning of public opinion poll results in Russia.
We immediately thought of how U.S. taxpayer-funded Voice of America (VOA) and International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB) officials dealt with a similar issue involving public opinion polling in a region annexed by Russia. This happened some months prior to the recent arrival at the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) of director and CEO Andy Lack. He will hopefully soon carry out management reforms to avoid blunders that have plagued VOA and BBG in recent years.
The analysis presented by the two Washington Post op-ed writers should be a recommended reading for VOA and BBG executives. Christopher Walker is executive director of the International Forum for Democratic Studies at the National Endowment for Democracy. Robert Orttung is assistant director of the Institute for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School for International Affairs.
Their assessment of public opinion polling in Russia is sophisticated, but their message is simple: Do not believe in what the polls say (assuming they are even accurate) because there is much more that needs to be considered.
“Today, the Kremlin must work far harder than it has to manufacture regime support. Its fiercer propaganda and harsher repression suggest that the Russian population is less willing to accept Putin. To compensate, the state apparatus has been shifted into overdrive.”
Why are President Putin’s popularity ratings in Russia high? Walker and Orttung give four reasons.
“First, Putin’s popularity has been achieved in an information vacuum. An informal set of censorship rules, actively enforced by the Kremlin, makes it virtually impossible to discuss important issues and question official actions through the mass media. …”
“Second, Putin’s political repression makes certain that only the bravest and most self-sacrificing individuals challenge his rule. … A popularity figure of 80-plus percent simply tells us that Russians cannot conceive of an alternative to Putin. …”
“Third, well-educated professionals are emigrating from Russia in massive numbers. …”
“Fourth is the reliance on diversionary tactics, such as the annexation of Crimea, to deflect attention from the country’s deepening economic problems. …”
“Shrewd leaders understand well that the perception of power molds its influence in reality. The Kremlin’s propaganda outlets toil relentlessly to shape this perception for their captive domestic audiences. Observers beyond the Kremlin’s reach do not have this excuse and should take a far more critical view of Putin’s standing. …”
READ MORE: via How Russia props up Putin in the polls – The Washington Post
After reading Walker’s and Orttung’s op-ed, compare their analysis to what IBB officials did in Putin-annexed Crimea within weeks of the occupation and how they and VOA presented results of the highly questionable IBB-ordered poll.
The IBB/BBG poll was conducted apparently without the approval of the Ukrainian government or the U.S. State Department. Later, the White House banned U.S. companies from doing business in Russian-occupied Crimea, although there can be an exemption for payments related to some U.S. government activities.
Note that neither the IBB press release nor the VOA news report refer to any of the issues and concerns raised by Walker and Orttung in their Washington Post op-ed, although the VOA report does include some cautionary quotes from then Freedom House president David Kramer.
Andy Lack needs to make sure that any current or future IBB and VOA executives understand that they “should take a far more critical view of Putin’s standing” and show much better judgement and sophistication than was previously the case.
June 16, 2014
BBG Watch Commentary
Two top independent sociologists in Ukraine and Russia, as well as some American experts who have done extensive polling and analysis of polling data in Eurasia, have described a recent public opinion survey ordered and paid for by the United States government through the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) in Russia-occupied Crimea as questionable, while some political observers call it a major public diplomacy blunder for the U.S.
According to Prof. Lev Gudkov, a prominent Russian sociologist from the Levada Center in Moscow, “the results of this study [IBB/BBG/Gallup poll in Crimea] may indeed be subject to some doubt.”
According to Prof. Volodymyr Paniotto, a prominent Ukrainian sociologist and General Director of the Kiev International Institute of Sociology, conducting a U.S. government ordered poll in Crimea legitimized the annexation of the territory by Russia in addition to producing results that “may be questionable and need deeper methodological analysis.”
Some American experts were “shocked” by the IBB/BBG poll and the presentation of its results.
“Conducting research in an occupied territory where people’s lives are in danger, and the United States government expects them to answer whether they think the U.S., Poland, etc. are playing a positive or a negative role is crazy, ” one expert observed.
“Doing research is important, but we need to do it with quality,” said Dr. Nino Japaridze, Senior Fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, Project on Democratic Transitions. Dr. Japaridze noted that “adults in Crimea with anti-Russian predispositions, out of fear, may have selected responses that would have been more likely to please pro-Russia activists in order to avoid intimidation or worse.”
“If we sense that interviews are only giving us data for the sake of having the data rather that giving us responses that people really believe in (something one can test during pre-test), we should not implement such fieldwork,” Dr. Japaridze said.
The Voice of America reported the Crimea poll results, which experts in Ukraine, Russia, and in the U.S., described as questionable or outright faulty, as perfectly valid — no questions asked.
Questionable IBB poll results from Crimea were also posted in a slide presentation on the Voice of America English news website.
Aside from the questionable reliability of the Crimea poll, which was apparently ordered by an executive of the BBG’s International Broadcasting Bureau (IBB), U.S. government initiating and paying with U.S. taxpayers’ money for such a controversial survey in a territory recently illegally annexed by Russia — the annexation not being recognized by the United States and most of the international community — is a political and public diplomacy blunder, as was a recent posting online by the Voice of America (VOA) of a map showing Crimea to be part of Russia. VOA is overseen by the BBG, as is IBB.
This would be similar — although not identical because of different levels and forms of repression used by the occupiers — to the United States government ordering and paying for public opinion polls shortly after Stalin’s annexation of the Baltic states or shortly after Hitler’s annexation of Austria and trumpeting to the whole world poll results showing extremely high support for these dictators among the local populations. It may have been the case in Austria due in large measure to Nazi propaganda, but it was definitely not the case in the Baltic states. In Crimea, the support for the referendum and annexation may have been significant, but probably not nearly as high as IBB/BBG wants the world to believe and what Voice of America said in its news report.
In presenting the poll results, an IBB executive and a VOA reporter made no mention of any possible problems with gathering data in Crimea, such as a high level of intimidation and fear possibly experienced by Crimean Tatars (about 12% of the population), ethnic Ukrainians and even some ethnic Russians. The forceful termination of Ukrainian media channels in Crimea was euphemistically referred to in a BBG/IBB press release as a “cessation.” The BBG press release also made no mention of powerful anti-Ukrainian and anti- Western Russian propaganda in Crimea.
Voice of America reported that the survey was conducted for the BBG by Gallup, which “interviewed 1,400 Ukrainians, and another 500 in Crimea in April, the month after Moscow took control of the Ukrainian territory.” “The survey was funded by the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, the parent agency of the Voice of America,” VOA reported.
“The survey of Crimeans after the Russian takeover showed they are overwhelmingly happy to be part of Russia, with nearly three-quarters of those surveyed saying their life will improve as part of Russia rather than Ukraine,” the VOA report also said.
“It is part of Russia now, and you saw that the support is huge for Russian government,” a VOA report quoted a Gallup pollster who was one of those making a public presentation in Washington of the poll results together with IBB executive Bruce Sherman, who apparently initiated the Crimean poll, one of his IBB staffers, and a researcher for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL), which is also overseen by the Broadcasting Board of Governors.
But if Kremlin propagandists around President Putin wanted to show the world that the overwhelming number of Crimeans support the annexation they could not have hoped for a better scenario than a U.S. government agency ordering a questionable poll in an annexed/occupied territory — where significant segments of the population (Crimean Tatars, ethnic Ukrainians and some ethnic Russians) are subject to intimidation and fear — and have the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors and the United States funded Voice of America international broadcaster present these questionable results favoring the Kremlin’s propaganda arguments as completely valid without any doubts or reservations being noted or reported.
The nonprofit and nonpartisan International Republican Institute (IRI), which like the National Democratic Institute (NDI) is a pro-democracy congressional grantee and does regular polling in Ukraine, also using Gallup, declined to do a poll in occupied Crimea. “Due to Russia’s occupation of the peninsula, resident’s of Crimea were unable to be included in this poll,” IRI pointed out in the introduction to its presentation of polling data collected throughout Ukraine April 3–12, 2014.
We do not question that a large segment of Crimea’s population, especially ethnic Russians who constitute a majority in Crimea, did in fact favor the referendum and the annexation of the territory by Russia. However, none of the experts we have consulted in Ukraine, Russia, and the United States said that the results obtained by IBB in this poll in Crimea were reliable.
Political observers point out that ordering such a questionable poll on behalf of the United States government in a recently annexed territory subject to political repression against those who disagree with the Russian annexation was a major blunder that would not have occurred when the International Broadcasting Bureau was part of the now-defunct United States Information Agency (USIA). Its former officials were much more sensitive to foreign policy and public diplomacy impact of the agency’s decisions.
While experts seriously question the political wisdom and reliability of the Crimea poll, they have fewer problems with the results of the poll in the rest of Ukraine, although they raise questions even about that part of the survey. Some wonder how so many interviews could have been conducted face-to-face in such a short time.
A top Ukrainian sociologist was struck by how the IBB/BBG/Gallup poll question on the Crimean referendum was phrased in such a way as to give the best possible result for the Kremlin.
But the most amazing example of the U.S. government presenting Crimea as a nearly normal country with no major issues in terms of democracy and freedom from intimidation and repression was the IBB/BBG press release, large parts of which were repeated in a Voice of America news report and in a slide presentation on the VOA English news website — no questions asked.
Part of the IBB/BBG press release tile, “Ukraine Political Attitudes Split, Crimeans Turning To Russian Sources For News” is also significant, as it implies that Crimeans are simply opting for Russian news sources. The use of “cessation” in the IBB/BBG press release as a euphemism for forceful Russian termination of Ukrainian TV channels in Crimea is also striking.
Also astounding is the complete silence in the IBB/Gallup presentation about the Crimean Tatars. Their deportation by Stalin from Crimea 70 years ago, during which nearly half died, mostly women and children, was marked recently in a statement from U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, which it should be noted was not reported by VOA English News (it was reported by the Ukrainian Service).
Both Kerry and President Obama met recently with Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Dzhemilev, which was also not reported by VOA English News.
It is not known how Crimean Tatars were represented in the IBB-ordered survey and whether their views on the referendum were measured. IBB and Gallup would not disclose who conducted the interviews in Crimea, whether a Ukrainian or a Russian company was used. The error rate was not given and no mention was made in the presentation about any significant issues that might affect the results of the poll in a recently-annexed territory where people may fear that honest answers may result in repressive actions. Such disclosures are required by codes of professional ethics when polling data is made public, especially to the media.
It would be interesting to see what the rest of the Obama administration, particularly the National Security Council, the State Department and the Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel think of the IBB-initiated poll in Russia-annexed Crimea, its questionable results, and their presentation and strong promotion by an IBB executive in a press conference in Washington and in an IBB press release.
It would also be interesting to know what members of the bipartisan Broadcasting Board of Governors think about it and about the VOA news report that failed to raise any questions about the Crimean poll. Secretary Kerry is an ex officio member of the BBG Board and Richard Stengel usually represents him at BBG board meetings.
Also interesting would be any reaction to the faulty, pro-Kremlin IBB Crimea poll from members of Congress, particularly members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. The House Foreign Affairs Committee recently unanimously approved a bipartisan bill, the Royce – Engel U.S. International Broadcasting Reform Legislation, that would reform the Broadcasting Board of Governors, with a special focus on major management reforms at IBB and VOA. The BBG board should preempt any congressional investigation by launching its own investigation of this IBB poll and other audience surveys conducted by the IBB Office of Strategy and Development.
In her comments on the IBB poll in Russia-annexed Crimea, Dr. Japaridze said: “folks responsible for this research at the BBG level should use special caution, ‘measure twice before they cut’, and be certain that the resources spent are giving information of value: information that represents attitudes and behaviors on the ground with accuracy.”
The five-year contract IBB has with Gallup to conduct polls worldwide for the Broadcasting Board of Governors is worth $50 million dollars, up to $10 million per year, although the agency is not obligated to spend the whole amount. BBG Watch will be reporting in depth in the coming days on the IBB Crimean poll and providing detailed opinions from experts.
BBG PRESS RELEASE
JUNE 3, 2014
WASHINGTON – Ukrainians’ political attitudes diverge by region despite the majority of the country turning to only a handful of top TV outlets for news, according to new survey results released today by the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The research shows Crimea as having a very different news market; in 2012, the top five news sources were Ukrainian, whereas now all five are Russia-based TV channels and social media.
People in the west, north, and center regions of Ukraine are more likely to hold a favorable view of the role played by U.S. in the crisis than those in the east, south, and Crimea. On the other hand, respondents in the east, south, and Crimea are more likely to see Russia as playing a mostly positive role. Support for economic reform, joining the EU, and NATO integration are similarly divided by region.
“The only consensus point across the country is that the vast majority of Ukrainians are opposed to foreign involvement in decisions about the country’s future,” said Neli Esipova, director of research, global migration and regional director for Gallup.
The crisis has taken a toll on the media environment in Ukraine, resulting in the cessation of broadcasts by some TV channels. However, these changes have not significantly affected Ukrainians’ sources for news.
“Only one in five Crimeans say the cessation of some Ukrainian TV channels in Crimea has changed their newsgathering habits, and only one in 10 Ukrainians outside Crimea say that the cessation in broadcasting of some Russian TV channels has changed their newsgathering habits,” said Sarah Glacel, senior audience research specialist at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.
As in previous years, five Ukrainian television channels remain the top news sources for Ukrainians across ethnic groups and regions, with the exception of Crimea. Unlike the rest of Ukraine, the top sources for news in Crimea changed dramatically from 2012. All top sources in 2012 were Ukrainian, while in 2014 all five top sources were Russia-based, including social network Vkontakte.
The results of the survey, conducted April 21-29, 2014, showed that 83% of Crimeans felt that the results of the March 16 referendum on Crimea’s status likely reflected the views of most people there. This view is shared only by 30% in the rest of the country. Most Crimeans (74%) also responded that they believe that life would be better as part of Russia.
A research brief and presentation with further information about these findings can be found here, and a recording of the briefing will be added in the coming days. More information about the BBG’s media research series is available here.
VOICE OF AMERICA NEWS
June 06, 2014 12:29 AM
WASHINGTON — A new Gallup poll shows a wide split in how Ukrainians and those living on the Crimean peninsula, annexed by Russia, view the conflict in their country. Ukrainians as a whole tend to be divided by where they live and sometimes by whether they are ethnic Ukrainians or ethnic Russians.
There are daily armed clashes in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian insurgents looking to secede from Ukraine and the Kyiv government’s security forces. And there is relative peace, seemingly a world away, in western Ukraine.
A new Gallup poll shows just how wide the gulf is between western and eastern Ukraine. The president of Washington-based Freedom House, David Kramer, said the split within Ukraine is growing.
“What we’re seeing now is wider splits have come about as a result of Russian influence and Russian pressure… It is more divided now than it was before events starting in Crimea in March,” said Kramer.
Gallup interviewed 1,400 Ukrainians, and another 500 in Crimea in April, the month after Moscow took control of the Ukrainian territory. The survey was funded by the U.S. government’s Broadcasting Board of Governors, the parent agency of the Voice of America.
It showed substantially more support for the American role in the current crisis in western Ukraine, with sharply diminished views of the U.S. in the southern and eastern regions of the country, and almost none in Crimea.
Gallup pollster Neli Esipova said the split among Ukrainians is not surprising.
“In the last eight, nine years when we collect data in Ukraine, we see it all the time on most of the aspects of life actually. Any political situation we ask of the country, even economics in the country, the split between different regions and between different ethnic groups existed for years, and the government didn’t pay attention to it,” said Esipova.
The survey of Crimeans after the Russian takeover showed they are overwhelmingly happy to be part of Russia, with nearly three-quarters of those surveyed saying their life will improve as part of Russia rather than Ukraine.
“It is part of Russia now, and you saw that the support is huge for Russian government,” said Esipova.
Kramer thinks that as time passes, Crimeans may rethink their affinity for Russia.
“I would say let’s check in with people living in Crimea in a while and see whether life in fact has really gotten better. Russia‘s made all sorts of promises that will cost Russia lots of money: to boost salaries, to boost pensions. Russia right now economically is not really in a position to do that,” said Kramer.
The poll showed that Ukrainians are split evenly on whether they would be willing to endure a diminished standard of living for a year or two while the Kyiv government looks to fix its moribund economy.