Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, June 04, 2012

What is democracy?

The traditional value placed on strong leadership in Russia comes into conflict with desires for a more democratic system.

In poll, Russians see wide gap between democratic ideals and reality
With Russia in a state of political ferment for the first time in more than a decade, a new poll has found sharply expressed and seemingly contradictory opinions holding sway…
Russians, as they have for years, still express strong approval of President Vladimir Putin. But a majority also approve of the political protests that have taken place since December.
It is a sign of the flux and uncertainty that prevail here. The Global Attitudes Project of the Pew Research Center — which has been polling in Russia, among other countries, for a decade — did 1,000 face-to-face interviews between March 19 and April 4, in the weeks following the presidential election. It found disquiet over the economy, pride in Russia as a nation and belief in a strong leader, as well as a widening gap between ideals and realities.
For instance, 71 percent of those polled said a fair judiciary is very important — and just 17 percent said Russia has one…
Pew calls this the “democracy gap,” between what should be and what is, and the average for all six categories has grown from a 21-percentage-point difference in 2009 to 34 points in 2012.
That’s a sign of the sharply higher expectations that Russians have of their society today — along with deeper disappointments…
Lev Gudkov, director of the Levada Center in Moscow, said this week that Pew’s findings roughly correspond to those of the polls his organization takes. “Democracy,” he said, earned a bad name in the 1990s, when attempts at reform unleashed rapacious oligarchs and dysfunctional politics. But now, gradually, Russians are coming to understand that there are democratic norms and that their country doesn’t have them…
[T]he Pew poll found that sharply higher numbers of Russians said voting is important. In 2009, 54 percent dismissed that idea; this year, 56 percent agreed with it, and the largest gains were among older voters, especially those over 50.
Yet support for Putin remains high, in part because of the perceived weaknesses of his competitors.
Outside the big cities, most Russians still get their news from state-controlled television, which helps to explain Putin’s high standing…

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