World

Former Soviet Populations Value Democracy

by Steve Crabtree and Neli Esipova

But many are dissatisfied with the way it works in their country

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Gallup Polls in six former Soviet republics reveal that majorities in each say democracy is important to their country's development. However, in most cases those who feel this way are unlikely to say they're satisfied with the way democracy works in their country.

Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the international community has watched closely to see how the newly independent post-communist states would develop politically. Almost all got off to a rough start, as their planned economies collapsed in the 1990s. The resulting climate of poverty and instability has not provided an auspicious backdrop for the development of healthy democratic regimes.

As the surveys demonstrate, there is plenty of support for democratic principles within these countries, all of which are now members of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). However, in many cases economic stagnation and lack of jobs have left CIS populations disillusioned about the way democracy is implemented in their countries.

Gallup asked those who feel democracy is important how satisfied they were with the way democracy works in their country. The results reflect respondents' likelihood to base opinions of their countries' political systems on the success of those systems in driving economic performance. The two countries where residents are least likely to say they are satisfied with the way their democracy works -- Ukraine and Georgia -- are also the two where people are least likely to feel the national economy is in good shape.

Active Opposition

In all six CIS nations studied, Gallup also asked residents how important it was for their country to have active political opposition. Only in Belarus and Kyrgyzstan -- where residents are least likely to say democracy is important for development -- do less than a majority say political opposition is very or somewhat important.

In Georgia, on the other hand, 85% say political opposition is important to their country, and at least two-thirds of those in Moldova (75%), Armenia (73%), and Ukraine (67%) agree. Interestingly, it is in these countries where majorities say political opposition is important that residents are most likely to be dissatisfied with the way democracy works.

The Case of Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstanis are almost twice as likely as those in most of the other CIS populations studied to say they are satisfied with the way democracy works in their country. They are also among the least likely to say democracy and political opposition are important to their country, so their expectations for democratic processes may be lower than they are in some countries.

However, regional politics offer another explanation. Ethnic tensions in Kyrgyzstan divide those living in the northern provinces and those living south of the mountain ranges that cut across the country. Data collection in Kyrgyzstan occurred in the spring of 2007, concurrent with a failed attempt by Feliks Kulov, a Northerner and former prime minister, to remove President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, a Southerner, from power. The situation is clearly reflected in Kyrgyzstanis' opinions of how well their democracy is working, as respondents in the South are more than twice as likely as those in the North to say they are satisfied.

Survey Methods

Results are based on face-to-face interviews conducted between April and August 2007 with at least 1,000 adults, aged 15 and older, in each of the 6 countries studied. For results based on each total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.
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