Russia’s image has improved much more among the general public than elites. Russia ought to step up efforts to improve its image among elites, for example through greater involvement in science, education, and cultural projects in Western countries.
Are the results of the survey what you expected? Why?
The results of the survey are not surprising, but we should always be cautious when interpreting polls. Let’s assume that there is no margin of error. Opinions about the political system and the economic system reflect the media’s “conventional wisdom,” meaning ideas that are not necessarily true but have become generally accepted. This was to be expected considering the nature of the survey. It is quite interesting nonetheless that one of the lowest indicators concerning the political system was for the Prime Minister’s power. This could be read both as evidence of a serious problem in the political system or as evidence of a shift in power toward the President. The same could be said about opinions concerning the economic system. The fact that corruption is named as one of the major problems in the Russian economy is not surprising, but it should also be interpreted in the light of the current conventional wisdom about economic transparency. As a matter of fact, while the Japanese economic and political system has been highly corrupt and witnessed a lot of cases of collusion from the 1950s through the 1970’s, Japan still experienced explosive growth in that time. So, one could read the survey results as proof that views on the real issues facing the Russian economy are not necessarily well informed.
Views on Russia’s image and its role in international security reflect the country’s Syria policy. They could mark a turning point for Russia’s own image, but we should be cautious about this. This is very important but requires further investigation.
Why do you think the Soft Power Index (SPI) was positive for the first time in four years?
The positive result for the Soft Power Index is quite interesting, assuming again that there is no margin of error. It shows that experts are taking much greater notice of the Russian government’s efforts to improve the country’s image. A more extensive survey of public opinion in some Western countries (France, Germany, Great Britain) might even suggest that the Soft Power Index somewhat understates things. It was said at the last Valdai event that Russia has good policies but a bad image. One could view the SPI as evidence that Russia’s image is slowly improving. Nevertheless, the divergence between elite views and popular views of Russia is still important. Russia’s image has improved much more among the general public than elites. Russia ought to step up efforts to improve its image among elites, for example through greater involvement in science, education, and cultural projects in Western countries.