Do people tell the truth when asked about their attitude to politicians?

How sincere are citizens, answering about their attitude to politicians, in particular, during public opinion polls? In Ukraine, this question is often raised in connection with the war, keeping in mind the so-called "effect of rallying around the flag", when an external danger leads to the consolidation of society and a resultant increase in trust and support for the state leaders. But there are suspicions that this support is not always sincere, that is, only verbal. 

The insincerity of the respondents' answers about their attitude to the authorities has long been discussed in Russia, which has long been at war not only with the outside world but also with objective reality (because, as Russian publicist Aleksandr Nevzorov said, "objective reality is exclusively Russophobic in nature").

Some Russian sociologists, suggesting that the answers to direct questions about the attitude to the authorities may be insincere, checked these answers with the help of so-called "indirect" questions, when, for example, the respondents were asked to tell not about their own attitude to the authorities but how their acquaintances feel about it (it is believed that it is easier for respondents to say that their acquaintances have a negative attitude to the government, not themselves, if only because the fate of acquaintances worries them less than their own).

In a study conducted by Russian sociologists Aleksandr Myagkov and Svetlana Zhuravlyova back in 2009, respondents' answers to two questions were compared, in which it was necessary to assess the activities of the then Russian president during the economic crisis of 2008-2009. The first question concerned the respondent's own point of view, while the second asked to evaluate the activities of the Russian President from the viewpoint of the respondent's friends/acquaintances. When answering about their own assessment of the president's activity, 63% of respondents said that this assessment was positive, but in relation to their friends and acquaintances, only 49% of respondents answered that friends and acquaintances praised it.

Last April, German researchers Philipp Chapkowski and Max Schaub conducted a methodical experiment to find out to what extent respondents in Russia hide their true attitude to the war in Ukraine during public opinion polls. According to its data, indirect research methods showed that support for the actions of the Russian army in Ukraine was 15% lower than the result obtained when answering a direct question. And this is without taking into account the fact that citizens who are "disloyal" to the Russian authorities may less often participate in public opinion polls.

These are not isolated cases when the use of indirect answers in Russia shows a more negative attitude to the government and its actions than the answers to direct questions do.

Can something similar be observed in Ukraine during the war? The Razumkov Centre Sociological Service used the methodology of the US sociologist Monroe Sirken during the poll held in July 2023. According to this method, the respondent, for example, is asked to estimate how many people among the five people with whom he (she) most often communicates have certain political sympathies. So, in a hypothetical situation, if, let's say, each respondent answers that one out of 5 representatives of his milieu sympathizes with politician N, then, extrapolating these data to the entire adult population of the country, it will be possible to conclude that the share of sympathizers of politician N in society is 20%.

During the poll, respondents were first asked to answer a direct question about their personal attitude (positive or negative) to five politicians: Yuriy Boyko, Andriy Yermak, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, Petro Poroshenko, and Yulia Tymoshenko. Then they were asked to name the five people with whom they most often communicate, without mentioning their first and last names, and to rate how positive (from 0 to 5) their attitude is to each of the named politicians. Therefore, it is possible to compare the share of sympathizers in society for each of the named politicians, obtained from the results of respondents' answers to a direct question about their sympathies, and the share of sympathizers calculated based on the results of respondents' answers about the sympathies of representatives of their immediate milieu.

Thus, according to the answers to a direct question about the attitude to Y. Boyko, 7.5% of the respondents expressed a positive attitude to him, while the share of those who have a positive attitude to this politician, calculated using M. Sirken's methodology, made 15%. When estimating the share of sympathizers of A. Yermak using these two methods, these shares made 29% and 34%, respectively, P. Poroshenko — 15% and 29%, respectively, Yu. Tymoshenko — 8% and 19%, respectively, V. Zelenskyy — 77 % and 72%.

So, the share of sympathizers of Y. Boyko, A. Yermak, P. Poroshenko, Y. Tymoshenko in society, calculated according to M. Sirken's methodology, turned out to be somewhat larger than the share obtained from the respondents' answers to a direct question. Three of these four politicians represent the political opposition, and one is a representative of the government. But they are "united" by the fact that when answering directly, respondents express a negative attitude to them more often than a positive one.

Meanwhile, the share of V. Zelenskyy's sympathizers, calculated according to M. Sirken's methodology, turned out to be somewhat lower than the share obtained from answers to a direct question.

So, we can conclude that some supporters of the politicians, to whom the society has a negative attitude, can hide their political sympathies during polls, and the real support for such politicians can be somewhat higher than the answers to a direct question show. With regard to opposition politicians, it can be assumed that the very fact of their being in the opposition may force some respondents to hide their attitude to them. Although the opposite assumption cannot be rejected either — the effect of the so-called "consolidation of minorities", when representatives of certain groups who are in the "ideological minority" confine the circle of communication to like-minded people, or subjectively exaggerate the number of like-minded people in their environment.

At the same time, if a politician is perceived in society mostly positively (or is in power), some respondents may verbally join the "approving majority", not actually belonging to it.

At the same time, it should be noted that the estimates of the level of support for politicians, obtained using M. Sirken's methodology, do not fundamentally change the picture obtained from direct answers — the level of support for V. Zelenskyy remains significantly higher than the level of support for leaders of the opposition political forces.

The article rests on the results of a public opinion poll conducted by the Razumkov Center Sociological Service on July 5-11, 2023 as part of the MATRA Program project, funded by the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in Ukraine. Assessments and conclusions of the survey authors should not be viewed as the official position of the Embassy.

The face-to-face poll was conducted in Vinnytsia, Volyn, Dnipropetrovsk, Zhytomyr, Transcarpathian, Zaporizhia, Ivano-Frankivsk, Kyiv, Kirovohrad, Lviv, Mykolaiv, Odesa, Poltava, Rivne, Sumy, Ternopil, Kharkiv, Kherson, Khmelnytsky, Cherkasy, Chernihiv, Chernivtsi regions and the city of Kyiv (in Zaporizhia, Mykolaiv, Kharkiv, Kherson regions — only in the territories controlled by the government of Ukraine and free of hostilities).

2017 respondents over the age of 18 were polled. The sample theoretical error does not exceed 2.3%. At the same time, additional systemic deviations of the sample may be caused by the consequences of Russian aggression, in particular, the forced evacuation of millions of citizens.


Mykhailo Mischenko

Deputy Director, Sociological Service

Born in 1962 in Kyiv

Education: Taras Shevchenko Kyiv State University, Faculty of Philosophy (1984). Ph. D in Philosophy


1984 – 1990 — Sociology Department at the Institute of Philosophy of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1990 – 1998 — Institute of Sociology of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine

1998 – 2003 — Ukrainian Institute of Social Research

February – September 2003 — Kyiv International Institute of Sociology

Since October 2003 — Deputy Director, Razumkov Centre Sociological Service

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