Moscow elites and the future of Russia

Post developed by Katie Brown in coordination with William Zimmerman.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

Photo credit: Thinkstock

In recent months, many U.S. headlines have cast Russia in a negative light. With the 2014 Winter Olympics set to take place in Sochi, Russia, worries about the host country’s homophobia and racism abound. A hunger strike by one imprisoned member of the band Pussy Riot brought the harsh labor camp sentences for the political activist punk rock band back into the news. And whistleblower Edward Snowden found asylum in Russia to avoid extradition to his native United States. Amid these negative stories, Russia played an instrumental role in disarming Syria’s Assad of his chemical weapons without resorting to militaristic retaliation. This peace brokering role culminated in a Nobel peace prize for the watch dog group brought in to oversee the process.

Stories about Russia, like these examples, often focus on President Vladimir Putin. Putin has solidified his power within Russia and abroad during his reign. In fact, Forbes named him the World’s Most Powerful Person for 2013.

But how do Russian’s feel about the trajectory of their government? Center for Political Studies (CPS) Research Professor Emeritus William Zimmerman studies International Relations, with a specialty in Russia.

Over the period 1993-2012, Zimmerman has overseen a panel of six surveys of elites from Moscow – including heads of governmental departments, owners and executive officers of companies, media editors, leaders in the armed forces, and members of the legislature.

In his recent working paper – “2020 Vision: Russian elites in 2020 perspective: Political system preference and national interests” – Zimmerman considers the results of the survey as a way to map expectations of the future among Russian elites.

The three most recent surveys (in 2004, 2008, and 2012) suggest a trend among these elites toward support for Western-style democracy. Zimmerman projects that this support will continue to grow through 2020. The following table breaks down survey responses by year, illustrating the trend.

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Interestingly, support for Western-style democracy is also more pronounced among younger Muscovite elites. The graph below breaks down support by birth year range (with the height of each column indicating the number of persons responding, not percentages).

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Zimmerman ends with an interesting question: “Would the creation of a genuinely competitive party system – warts and all – boost support for what is after all a core element in Western political systems?” Interestingly, the paper notes that in the early years of his tenure, Putin spoke admiringly about such a system.

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