Public Opinion Poll in the North Caucasus 2017

Public Opinion Poll in the North Caucasus 2017


During May-June 2017 Prague information agency Medium Orient carried out its standard public opinion poll in the three North Caucasus republics of the Russian Federation – Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. The agency polled 1,119 respondents of dominant ethnic groups from a representative sample in Dagestan, Ingushetia, and Kabardino-Balkaria. The opinion poll probed into the most pressing issues in their republics, general human rights, the level of corruption, attitudes towards republic and federal authorities, as well as confidence towards social and government institutions.


The polls results provided comprehensive insights into the social well-being of one of the most challenging regions in present-day Russia. The findings are particularly important in light of the highly sensitive social and political climate across Russia. Just like the Balkans whose socio-political afflictions often spill over and influence regional European dynamics, the Caucasus reflects the entire spectrum of Russia-wide issues – in its most salient, condensed and at times dramatic form.


Socio-economic and civic well-being, perception of corruption and human rights violations in the North Caucasus according to a recent survey.


When asked about the most pressing issues in the republic, one third of respondents (34.1 percent) identified “corruption of the ruling elites” followed by socio-economic (25.7 percent) and security-related problems (22.9 percent). In this context, 12.3 percent of respondents named “religion” and a mere 1.3 percent “ethnicity” as issues of concern. Only 3.7 percent of respondents marked “not sure.” Notably, earlier public opinion polls conducted by Medium Orient consistently demonstrated higher degree of public concern with socio-economic and security issues. Recently, there has been a shift towards identifying government corruption as the most pressing issue. Evidently, this trend reflects growing frustrations with glaring inequality gap between people in power and ordinary citizens. The gap contributes to increasing social tensions in the North Caucasus and Russia at large.


When asked about the changes in the household economic condition for the last 12 months, only 16 percent responded that it has improved. Larger group – 23.9 percent – noted that things have declined. At the same time, 27.2 percent of respondents declared that their economic conditions have “somewhat improved” and 25.9 percent as “somewhat declined.” Overall, respondents whose economic conditions have “improved” or “somewhat improved” represent 43.2 percent while those whose conditions have “declined” or “somewhat declined” represent 49.8 percent. The latter group with more negative outlook on their economic conditions outnumbers the former by 6.6 percent. Quite a number of respondents – 7 percent – were undecided.


The question whether human rights are respected to the full extent in relevant republics revealed high degree of public dissatisfaction with the issue. Thus, 38.8 percent of respondents stated that human rights are not respected versus 12.7 percent who hold the opposite opinion. Additionally, 28.9 percent of the public responded that human rights are “not fully respected” compared to 16.6 percent who think that they are “somewhat respected.” In total, 67.7 percent of respondents feel that human rights are “not respected” or “not fully respected” compared to 29.3 percent of the public who feel that human rights are “respected” or “somewhat respected.” Respondents dissatisfied with the state of human rights in their republics are more than twice as many as those who are satisfied.


When asked which particular rights and freedoms are pressured the most, almost one third of respondents (27.3 percent) identified “freedom of speech” followed by 15.9 percent towards the “right to vote.” 8.6 percent of respondents are highly concerned about the “right to life”; 8 percent about the “right to hold demonstrations and public events”; notable 7.9 percent were dissatisfied with the “right to freedom of religion”; 6.4 percent with the “right to freedom of movement” in the Russian Federation and 2.9 percent with the “right to speak their native language.” At the same time, a large number of respondents – 16 percent – selected “hard to respond” as their answer. The growing importance of the right to freedom of speech in public responses demonstrates increasing public and social awareness and activism among the North Caucasus population.


When asked about specific instances when they faced corruption, 17.2 percent of respondents identified corruption in education (schools and universities); 13 percent identified corruption in healthcare; 7.6 percent marked corruption in the law enforcement and 1.8 percent identified corruption among fiscal and tax authorities. At the same time, 53.2 percent of respondents stated that they had not encountered corruption. This year’s trend in responses conforms to what Medium Orient has observed in previous public opinion polls where education, healthcare and law enforcement were identified as the most corrupt areas.


Public satisfaction with their economic situation and the perception of respect for their rights predetermined their response to the question whether they planned to immigrate to another country or another region. Over half of respondents – 56 percent – said “no.” 14.6 percent of respondents were considering long-term move to another country or region in the near future. Responses “most likely will move” and “most likely will stay” represent 11.3 percent and 14.7 percent accordingly. 3.5 percent of respondents could not give a definitive answer. Overall, more than one fourth of the respondents (25.9 percent) were considering moving to another country or region and 14.6 percent made the final decision to do so. This is a relatively significant number demonstrating high level of determination among the respondents to leave their republic in search of better opportunities abroad or in other parts of Russia.


At the same time, prevailing dissatisfaction with the economic conditions and level of respect for basic freedoms did not negatively affect the respondents’ national and ethnic identity. Thus, when asked about their feelings of belonging to a particular nationality, 53.9 percent of respondents were “proud”, 27.7 “confident” and 9.8 percent “indifferent”. Only 3.6 percent felt “discriminated against”, 2.1 percent felt “resentful” and 2.9 percent of respondents could not provide a definitive answer. Overall, 91.4 percent of respondents projected affirmative and confident feeling of ethnic belonging and only 5.7 percent articulated negative sentiment (“grievance” and “discrimination”).


Responses regarding citizenship, on the other hand, demonstrated slightly more dissent. Thus, when asked about their feelings of being a Russian citizen, 33.3 percent of respondents were “proud”, 25.2 percent “confident” and 26.7 percent “indifferent.” At the same time, 6.3 percent felt “discriminated against”, 4.9 harbored “grievances” and 3.6 percent couldn’t give a definitive answer. Overall, 85.2 percent of respondents projected affirmation and confidence with regards to their civic identity and 11.2 percent articulated negative sentiment. In this context, negative sentiment in relation to the citizenship markedly exceeds any negative feeling towards ethnic identity – 11.2 percent versus 5.7 percent. Similarly, indifference towards one’s civic identity is prevalent in 26.7 percent of respondents compared to 9.8 percent towards ethnic identity.


When asked the citizenship of which country they preferred to have, the majority of respondents – 62.7 percent – stated Russian Federation. 13.2 percent would prefer to be citizens of a European country, 9.2 percent of Turkey and 6.8 percent of the US. 6.5 percent of respondents were undecided. Therefore, despite common dissatisfaction with the economic conditions and level of respect for basic freedoms, the majority of respondents – 62.7 percent – still prefer Russian citizenship. This can be attributed to Russia’s credible status among other CIS countries. Citizenships of European countries, Turkey and America hold appeal for the North Caucasus public in that order.


Responses with regards to the social and economic expectations demonstrated high degree of fatalism as well as cautious optimism. When asked whether life would change for the better, worse or remains unchanged in the next 12 months, 40 percent of respondents opted for the philosophical “Inshallah/God willing.” 30 percent expected no changes, 17.1 percent were certain of positive changes and 10.1 percent expected worse things to come. Only 2.5 percent couldn’t give a definitive answer. In this context, the number of optimists hoping for better things to come prevailed – 17.1 percent compared to 10.1 percent of respondents with bleak expectations.


Perception of religion and religious policies in the North Caucasus according to the public opinion poll.


The survey included a set of questions aimed to determine religious sentiment and awareness, perception of religious freedoms in select republic as well as public perspective in relation to religious policies of republican and federal authorities.


The question about the role of religion in their lives revealed rather strong degree of piety among the North Caucasus population. The majority – 64.4 percent of respondents – said that religion was very important for them and additional 17 percent that it was “somewhat important.” The minority – 10.9 percent of respondents – assigned lesser importance to religion and 6.6 percent said that religion didn’t affect their lives at all. Overall, 81 percent of respondents consider religion “important” or “somewhat important” compared to 17.5 percent of those who assign lesser or no importance to religion. This trend demonstrates growing influence of religion and religious authorities in the North Caucasus.


Compelling finding relates to the degree of respect of the religious rights of Muslims in the North Caucasus republics. Almost half of respondents – 44.2 percent – noted that the rights of Muslims are fully respected in their republics and 31.8 percent feel that their religious rights are “mostly respected”. Only a minority of respondents – 7.5 percent – consider religious rights oppressed and 12.6 percent think the rights are “somewhat oppressed”. Thus, the total share of respondents who think that the rights of Muslims are “fully” and “mostly” respected is 76 percent compared to 20.1 percent who consider their religious rights not respected. Only 3.8 percent of respondents couldn’t give a definitive answer.


Even though the overwhelming majority are generally satisfied with how religious rights are upheld in the republics, one fifth of respondents who in one way or the other is concerned about their religious rights and freedoms, is not an insignificant number and represents an alarming trend.


Assessment of government policies towards Muslims


Respondents from the North Caucasus maintain overall affirmative assessment of federal policies towards Muslims in their region. 33.6 percent of respondents positively evaluated federal religious policies and 31.3 percent agreed it was “mostly positive”. At the same time, only 14 percent of respondents gave “negative” and 11.3 percent “mostly negative” assessment of such policies. Overall, “positive” and “mostly positive” assessment was maintained by 64.9 percent which significantly prevailed over “negative” and “mostly negative” assessment by 25.3 percent of respondents. 9.8 percent could not provide a definitive answer. At the same time, dissatisfied respondents make up one fourth of the surveyed and reflect an alarming trend of potential conflict.


The assessment of regional policies mirror the responses above – 40.5 percent of respondents evaluate regional policies “positively” and 27 percent “mostly positively”. “Negative” and “mostly negative” assessment was maintained by 12.2 and 11.3 percent respectively. Overall, “positive” and “mostly positive” assessment of regional authorities was maintained by 67.5 percent which significantly prevailed over “negative” and “mostly negative” assessment by 23.5 percent of respondents.


Notably, public assessment of regional policies was slightly higher than of federal policies towards Muslims in the region – 67.5 percent compared to 64.9 percent. “Negative” and “mostly negative” assessment of federal policies compared to regional policies was almost 2 percentage points higher.


Level of credibility towards various social and governmental institutions in the North Caucasus according to the public opinion poll


The survey included a set of questions that aimed to determine the level of credibility local populations have towards social and governmental institutions, including religious establishments.


Russian Orthodox church registered low levels of credibility – it is “fully trusted” only by 6.5 percent of the surveyed and “somewhat trusted” by 8.7 percent. Alternatively, 31 percent of respondents “don’t trust” the church and 21.1 percent “somewhat don’t trust”. One third of respondents – 32.7 percent – could not give a definitive answer. Thus, over half of respondents – 52.1 percent – don’t trust the Orthodox religious institutions, far outnumbering the 15.2 percent of those who do. The low level of credibility is linked not only to the small number of Orthodox believers in the North Caucasus, but also to the cozy alliance between church and state which makes the church unpopular among the public.


Muslim religious authorities/Spiritual Board of Muslims enjoy “full credibility” from 20.9 percent and “partial credibility” from 24.8 percent of respondents. Conversely, 13.5 percent don’t trust the authorities “completely” and 12.7 percent “partially”. 28 percent of the surveyed couldn’t give a definitive answer.


Thus, the total percent of respondents that “fully” or “partially” trust Muslim religious authorities reached 45.7 compared to a much smaller number of those who distrust such authorities – 26.2 percent. These responses demonstrate that despite close connection with local authorities and overall decrease in popularity, traditional Islamic religious institutions still maintain strong credibility among broader populations in the North Caucasus.


Notably, the level of trust towards informal Islamic religious communities was lower than towards the Spiritual Board of Muslims – the communities enjoy “full” trust of 17.8 percent of respondents and “partial” trust of 21.3 percent. 19.6 percent of respondents distrust such communities “completely” and 13.5 percent “partially”. Credibility, thus, was registered among 39.1 percent of respondents and lack of trust among 33.1 percent. Almost a third of the surveyed – 27.9 percent – could not give a definitive response. Thus, the Spiritual Board of Muslims commands full or partial credibility among 45.7 percent of respondents compared to 39.1 percent by informal Islamic communities.


The responses with regards to the credibility of international human rights organizations are thought-provoking – they are mostly mistrusted. Only 11 percent of the surveyed “fully” trust such organizations and 17.1 percent “partially” do. Significantly more respondents – 21.6 percent and 19.1 percent – distrust international human rights organizations “fully” and “partially” respectively. Overall credibility level towards international human rights NGOs reaches 28.1 percent compared to 40.7 percent who distrust them. At the same time, a third of respondents – 31.2 percent – couldn’t give a definitive answer. Such low credibility can be attributed to both negative press coverage international human rights organizations receive in dominant Russian and North Caucasus media as well as the lack of tangible results of their activities in the North Caucasus.


By contrast, the public seems to place more trust in such traditional social structures as kin and teip. 26.9 percent of respondents “fully” trust such institutions and 22.6 percent “partially” do. 11 percent and 12.2 percent stated they distrust such structures “fully” and “partially” respectively. Thus, overall percent of those who trust traditional institutions reaches 49.5 and those who distrust such structures make up 23.2 percent of respondents. Significant number – 27.3 percent – could not provide a definitive answer. Combined with an overall number of those who don’t trust traditional institutions (23.2 percent), this trend indicates declining standing of such structures in broader communities, particularly in a more challenging modern context.

Notably, the public opinion poll revealed high degree of credibility towards the Russian army. 33.5 percent of respondents said they “fully” trust in the Russian army and 20.6 percent that they “somewhat trust” in it. 13 and 12 percent of the surveyed respectively don’t trust and “somewhat distrust” the army. Remarkably, the overall percent of those who fully or partially trust the Russian army – 54.1 percent – exceeds the level of credibility towards traditional social institutions such as teip and kin (49.5 percent). Those who don’t trust the Russian army, fully or partially, did not exceed 25 percent. The army’s high credibility can be explained by its integration into the public life through compulsory military service as well as by ongoing positive image perpetuated in the media, most recently in connection to the Russian campaign in Syria. Moreover, the public sees the army as a social institution rather than political lever, with its first and foremost responsibility to protect homeland from external threats.


In stark contrast, the credibility of police and law enforcement was quite low. Only 6.5 percent of respondents said they fully trust the police and 13.2 percent said they “partially” did. The percentage of those who completely distrust the police reached 32.9 percent and of those who partially distrust it was 24.4. Overall level of credibility towards law enforcement institutions, therefore, made up 19.7 percent while full and partial distrust was manifested by 57.3 percent of respondents, threefold higher. These findings represent a markedly strong contrast with the level of trust towards the army, most probably due to the fact that the police is traditionally viewed as one of the most corrupt institutions in Russia.


Public prosecution office enjoys even less credibility than the police – only 5.7 percent and 10.4 percent of the surveyed respectively “fully” and “partially” trust this institution. The level of distrust was expressed by 37.4 percent (“fully”) and 24.4 percent (“partially”). 22.2 percent of respondents could not give a definitive answer. Thus, overall level of distrust of the public prosecution office reaches 61.8 percent against 16.1 percent of those who trust the institution. Consequently, public prosecution turned out to be the least trusted institution among the North Caucasus population.


With regards to the media, the public is not very trusting either – only 4.4 percent place full confidence in this institution and 10.4 percent partially trust it. In contrast, 38 percent have no trust in the media and 25.1 percent partially distrust it. 22.2 percent of the surveyed could not give a definitive response. Overall, the media enjoys full or partial credibility of only 14.8 percent of respondents while 63.1 percent of the surveyed distrust it. This trend is attributed to a sharp decline in the number of independent media sources and increasing dominance of official and pro-government platforms in the North Caucasus.


Federal government garnered full support from only 7.6 percent of respondents and partial support from 13.2 percent. Almost a third of the surveyed – 27.9 percent – distrust the federal government completely, and 23.7 percent partially. 27.6 percent could not provide a definitive answer. Overall, 20.8 percent of respondents trust the federal government compared with 51.6 percent of those who completely or partially distrust it.


Notably, the public displayed even less trust towards regional governments – only 5.9 percent of respondents have full credibility and 11.1 percent have partial credibility in their authorities. 35.7 percent and 23.9 percent of respondents respectively, completely and partially distrust regional-level governments making the overall number reach 59.6 percent. Only 17 percent of the surveyed are inclined to trust regional governments. The difference in percentage points between those who distrust regional governments (a higher number of respondents) compared to federal authorities is eight. Clearly, the public blames the existing socio-economic grievances and inability of authorities to effectively address them on regional rather than federal governments.


Similarly, municipal authorities are not highly credible with the public – only 5.3 percent of respondents fully trust them and 8.5 percent do so to some degree. 23 percent of the surveyed could not provide a definitive answer. The overwhelming majority expressed their distrust towards municipal governments – 40.1 percent “fully” and 23.1 percent “partially”. Overall, the level of distrust was articulated by 63.2 percent of the surveyed compared to a mere 13.8 percent of those who fully or partially trust municipalities. Thus, municipalities enjoyed even less credibility than regional authorities – 63.2 percent versus 59.6 percent of those who expressed distrust. Similarly, the local authorities are viewed as highly corrupt and inefficient, having lacked the ability to improve local conditions for decades.


Political parties are also mistrusted – only 4.2 percent of respondents place full confidence in them and 7.2 percent trust political parties to some degree. At the same time, almost half of the surveyed – 40.1 percent – completely distrust and 25.1 percent partially distrust political parties. The level of distrust is registered with 65.2 percent of respondents as the public views political parties as powerless and completely dependent on the authorities, pursuing their own narrow interests and having no real effect on the political discourse in the regions.


Court institutions command full trust of a dismal 3.7 percent of the surveyed and some trust of 9.8 percent. 21.5 percent could not provide a definitive answer. However, 42.5 percent expressed full distrust and 22.4 percent some distrust of the courts. Thus, overall lack of credibility is harbored by 64.9 percent of the surveyed painting a bleak picture for the North Caucasus courts. Similarly to the political parties, courts are viewed as structures closely connected to and dependent on those in power.


The republican parliament is fully trusted by only 5.2 percent of respondents and somewhat trusted by 12.7 percent. Almost a third of respondents – 24.8 percent – could not give a definitive answer. 37.4 percent of respondents fully mistrust and 20 percent somewhat mistrust the republican parliament. Thus, only 17.9 percent of the surveyed expressed full or some degree of confidence in the republican parliament compared to 57.4 percent of respondents who mistrust the institution.


Notably, the North Caucasus population has more confidence in the Russian Federal Assembly (federal parliament) than in regional parliaments. Thus, the Federal Assembly enjoys full trust of 16.8 percent of respondents and some trust of 17.5 percent. At the same time, 23.9 percent of the surveyed completely distrust the institution and 14.9 percent somewhat distrust it. 26.8 percent couldn’t provide a definitive answer. The Federal Assembly is, therefore, trusted by 34.3 percent of respondents and distrusted by 38.8 percent. The level of confidence in the Federal Assembly among the surveyed is 16.9 percentage points higher than in the republican parliament.


The opinion poll results demonstrate that among all the government institutions respondents trust the President of the Russian Federation the most. Complete confidence was expressed by record high 40.3 percent and some confidence by 19.7 percent. Those who distrust the President completely made up 13.9 percent and those who do so partially/to some degree – 9.4 percent. 16.7 percent of respondents could not provide a definitive answer. Therefore, the President of the Russian Federation enjoys trust of 60 percent of respondents – the highest number; and 23.3 percent expressed distrust.


The reasons behind Mr. Putin’s high approval ratings have long been a point of heated discussions. This phenomenon can be largely attributed to the President’s imposing personality, his public demeanor, precision in reading his target audiences as well as to carefully crafted media campaigns that promote Mr. Putin’s powerful image among the public. An apt politician, Russian President effectively exploits external challenges to increase his standing and mobilize public support.


Similarly to the previous tendencies, stronger confidence levels towards federal institutions continued with the institution of the presidency. Thus, the presidents of the North Caucasus republics enjoy full trust of only 10.6 percent of respondents and some degree of trust of 12.7 percent. 40.8 percent of the surveyed completely distrust their presidents and 15.8 percent distrust them to some degree. 20.1 percent could not provide a definitive response. Compared to 60 percent of respondents who trust Mr. Putin, only 23.3 percent do so when asked about the presidents of their republics. Over half of the surveyed – 56.6 percent – do not have confidence in their regional heads. The degree of trust the public places in Mr. Putin is three times higher than in local leaders.


International organizations have rather low level of confidence among the North Caucasus population – only 4.5 percent of respondents expressed full trust and 13.7 some degree of trust in them. 24.9 percent distrust such organizations completely and 24.8 percent do to some degree. A third of the surveyed – 32.1 percent – could not provide a definitive answer. Overall, only 18.2 percent of respondents trust international organizations and 49.7 percent expressed their distrust.


Notably, the Federal Security Service (FSB) has full trust of 14.5 percent of respondents and some degree of trust of 13.8 percent. 29.6 percent of the surveyed distrust the security services completely and 18.7 percent expressed some degree of distrust. 23.5 percent couldn’t provide a definitive answer. Overall, the FSB enjoys trust of 28.3 percent while similar number for the international organizations is 18.2 percent. Those who distrust the FSB fully or partially is 48.3 percent of respondents.




The findings of the public opinion poll conducted by Prague’s information agency Medium Orient in the end of May – first half of June 2017 exposed rather complicated and at times contradictory trends and public perceptions in the North Caucasus. One distinctive feature is a clear discontent among the population with rampant corruption, regional socio-economic conditions and disregard for basic rights and freedoms. Thus, almost 70 percent of respondents perceive that their rights are being violated.


At the same time, the survey results clearly point out that the blame for the problems in the region is placed on the republican and not federal authorities. This is supported by higher levels of trust towards federal institutions compared to their regional counter-parts. Notably, one institution that enjoys the highest degree of confidence among the public is the President of the Russian Federation – 60 percent of respondents expressed their trust in him while only 23 percent of the surveyed articulated any degree of trust towards their republic’s leaders. Political parties and courts commanded record low degrees of confidence among the surveyed – only 11.4 percent trust in political parties and 13 percent in courts.


Important trend that has been identified during the most recent public opinion poll in the North Caucasus is high degree of disappointment and distrust towards fundamental institutions of civil society including mass media, political parties, human rights organizations and international organizations. As a response to the overall discontent and perceived failure of traditional civic institutions the population turned to religion. Thus, overall number of those who consider religion important and somewhat important in their lives reached 81 percent.


Public Opinion Poll Methodology


The survey was conducted in urban and rural areas, and the sampling was developed based on the statistics of the 2010 population census (


The sampling included rural and urban residents over 15, which was also the target population. The combined sampling included 1,200 respondents. To ensure the survey’s representativeness the final methodology was multi-tiered, stratified, proportional and random sampling and included the following stages: 1) stratification and primary sampling; 2) identification of points of sampling; 3) selection of households to survey; 4) selection of respondents. All the surveyed regions included rural and urban areas, as identified below:

  • Ingushetia: one street in Malgobek city, Malgobek city, Verkhnie Achaluki rural community, Zyazikov-Yurt rural community, Nizhnie Achaluki rural community, Sagopshy rural community, Srednie Achaluki rural community, Ali-Yurt rural community, Barsuki rural community, Dolakovo rural community, Kantyshevo rural community, Plievo rural community, Surkhakhi rural community, Ekazhevo rural community, Yandare rural community, Galashki rural community, Nesterovskoe rural community, Ordzhonikidzevskoe rural community and the urban area of Ordzhonikidzevskoe, 6 rural communities in Troitskoe district.
  • Kabardino-Balkaria: one street in Nalchik city, Nalchik city, rural districts of Nalchik city, one street in Baksan town, Baksan town, Baksan village, one street in Prokhladny town, Prokhladny town, Baksan municipal district – Zayukovo rural community, Islamei rural community, Psykhurey rural community, Zolski municipal district – Kamennomostskoe rural community, Sarmakovo rural community, Leskensky municipal district – Khatuey rural community, Maysky municipality – Maysky city, Kotlarevskaya rural community, Prokhladnensky municipality – Karagach rural community, Soldatskaya rural community, Tersky municipality – Tersky city, Verkhny Kurp rural community, Planovskoe rural community, Urvansky municipality – Nartkala city, Kakhun rural community, Stary Cherek rural community, Chegem municipality – Chegem city, Verkhny Chegem rural community, Cherek municipality – Babugent rural community, Elbrus municipality – Tyrnyauz city, Kendelen rural community.
  • Dagestan: Makhachkala city, Derbent city, Khasavyurt city, Buynaksk city, Kazbekovsky municipality – Dylym rural community, Leninoaul rural community, Burtunay rural community, Kayakentsky municipality, Dakhadaevsky municipality (Dargin ethnic group), Zubachi rural community, Kalkni rural community, Botlikhskiy municipality – Botlikh village, Alak, Gagtli (Avar and Andi ethnic groups).

Islam Tekushev, Kirill Shevchenko, Tanzila Chabieva

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