BISS`March 2012 Polling Memo
Although Aliaksandr Lukashenka`s electoral rating has been partially restored there is little reason for optimism for the authorities: 77% of respondents still think that the country is stuck in crisis and for 52% of respondents Belarus is moving in the "wrong direction". Large part of the society stays in the political middle without political representation, according to the data from the public opinion poll provided by Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Studies (IISEPS).
All major shifts did not significantly affect those who declared themselves to be "in opposition to the regime" (23.4% in March 2012 means -4 points to the highest number from September 2011). However, the number of those who declared themselves not to be "in opposition to the regime" has risen by 10 % during the last 6 months (66% in March 2012).
Importantly, the fact that 2/3 of respondents declare their support to the regime does not mean that they are Lukashenka loyalists. Quite the contrary, BISS thinks there is little chance for Mr. Lukashenka to win over the majority of the Belarusians. Polling data from March 2012 supports last years' conclusions of BISS on Lukashenka's potential to avert a dramatic downfall (-33 points last year) once the "rents" from Russia return. Based on the newest data, BISS thinks that Alexander Lukashenka is about to reach the ceiling of public support and would probably focus on securing one-third of the population behind him for some period of time. Several numbers from March 2012 show a notable similarity: Lukashenka's electoral rating 34.5% (+14 points comparing to September 2011), 34.7% of those who believed his promise that in the next 1-1.5 year salaries will return to the pre-crisis level, and 35.3% of those who thought Belarus was in the "right direction" (+17 points comparing to September 2011).
Most importantly, data from March 2012 brought a dramatic end to the long period of more or less balanced numbers in the geopolitical choices of Belarusians or even prevailing pro-EU choice. From the recent data of IISEPS, 47% of Belarusians support Russia and 37% are for EU when asked about their geopolitical choice. This represents a very significant new gap (compare to 38% pro-Russia vs. 38% pro-EU after presidential election on December 2010) and shows a significant turn from the pro-EU peak a year ago (31.5% pro-Russia vs. 50.5% pro-EU).
Although 77% of respondents in March 2012 said Belarusian economy is stuck in crisis (just -4 points compared to December 2011, and -10 points compared to the highest number in September 2011), the huge wave of pessimism with its peak in the summer of 2011 indicates that the feeling that the financial situation has worsened during last three months has significantly decreased. In March 2012 “only” 40% of respondent said in financial situation got worse in the last 3 months (-20 points compared to December 2011), according to 43% of the respondents their financial situation has not changed (+12 point) and for 15% their financial situation got better (+8 points).
Optimism about the coming year has also increased: 57% of respondents said the social and economic situation in Belarus will get better or will not change (+15 points compared to December 2011) and 32.7% think that the situation will get worse (-12%). This means the “will get better or will not change” answers still represent -14 points compared to their peak right after the presidential elections of 2010, but +19 points compared to May 2011; and the number of those who said that social and economic situation in Belarus will get worse in the coming years has shrunk to 32.7% in March 2012 from 52.7% in September 2011 (but still remains almost twice higher than after presidential elections 2010).
Aliaksandr Lukashenka managed to increase his electoral rating to 34.5%. It means +10 points compared to December 2011 and +14 points compared to the dip six month ago. According to the data, Mr. Lukashenka was quite successful in his effort to discourage people to think that he is personally responsible for the crisis: from 61% in September 2011 to 48.6% in March 2012 (-12 points). Moreover, almost the same number of respondents who said they would vote again for Mr. Lukashenka said that they connected their hopes for taking Belarus out of the crisis with the President (35.9% in open question).
At the same time, it is noteworthy that all these shifts did not significantly changed the proportion between the groups of those who think that life in Belarus “will get better” or “will get worse” or “will stay the same” if Mr. Lukashenka leaves. 26% of those who thought “life will get better” were 9 points less than in September 2011, and 36.5% who thought “life will stay the same” were 10 points more, but jointly represent constantly the same number - 62% - from September 2011 to March 2012. Even smaller changes occurred in the group of those who thought “life will get worse” if Mr. Lukashenka leaves: 26.7% means 8 points less than at his electoral rating (and just +3 points than in September 2011, when his electoral rating crashed to 20%).
Although the majority of respondents (52%) thought Belarus was in the “wrong direction”, 62% thought their life will get better or will not change, 57% do not trust Lukashenka’s promise to raise their salaries to the level before the crisis , and just one-third of respondents believe the President’s ability to lead the country out of the crises - there is still no alternative for them.
23% of respondents declared themselves in “opposition to the regime“. At the same time just 4% of those who said Belarus were in the “wrong direction” chose the representatives of Belarusian opposition as those who should put the country back on the right track. And 26% favor “progressive-thinking representatives of the society, neither connected with the institutions of the regime, nor with the opposition”.
The polling data about the upcoming Parliamentary election were verifying the political map with significant space for an alternative in the “political center”, and also emerged as a serious challenge for the traditional opposition.
30% of respondents answered they would vote for Mr. Lukashenka’s supporters; 23% for the opponents of Mr. Lukashenka, 29% of respondents, said they would vote for “another candidate”. At the same time, polling data indicates a rather high percentage of respondents willing to participate in Parliamentary Elections: just 18% said they will not participate. In addition to the all weighty political, moral and practical aspects and arguments for the boycott, the polling data signalize low support for that strategy (10%, while 41.6% did not even know about it) and, at the same time, 23% of respondents were willing to vote for Lukashenka’s opponent (the same number as those who declared themselves in “opposition to the regime”). This data suggests that the support for boycott strategy is unlikely to approach the percentage of those claiming to be in opposition to the regime, and certainly would not “affect” the rest, which is, in fact, a major part of society, and which has adopted the habit of waiting who will become their political representative.