Public Opinion: Back to Reality

Yuri Drakokhrust


In 2015, the decline in living standards which had replaced the stagnation of 2014, affected public attitudes and the results of the presidential election. Although according to the polls Aleksandr Lukashenko managed to get 50% of the votes, the 2015 election results were the worst during his presidency. The ‘Ukrainian factor’ was still active and helped to distract attention from the decline in living standards as compared to the situation of the southern neighbors, but it had less impact than in 2014.

Tatsiana Karatkevich’s election campaign showed the phenomenon of the ‘third Belarus’ – the presence of a fairly large group of voters that differs both from Lukashenko’s traditional electorate and from the classical opposition electorate.


“Geese are not the main point, the thing is that everything is wrong”

These lines from Vladimir Vysotsky’s song perfectly describe the self-awareness of Belarusians in 2015. After the crisis of 2011, real disposable incomes of the Belarusians increased quite intensely in 2012–2013: in 2013 the growth totaled 17.2%. 2014 was the beginning of the ‘poor years’ and was characterized by almost zero income growth. In 2015, there was a fall in real income by 5.4%, and in real salary by 3.8% (January-October). Zero revenue growth in 2014 influenced Belarusians’ evaluations of their financial situation and expectations only slightly, while the decline of 2015 had a visible impact.

Tables and analysis presented below provide the data of the quarterly polls of the Independent Institute of Socio-Economic and Political Studies (

Answer 06’11 12’12 12’13 03’14 03’15 06’15 09’15 12’15
Improved 1.6 17.4 12.6 10.1 8.6 9.0 9.8 10.5
Has not changed 23.2 54.0 58.1 63.3 44.0 51.3 44.4 45.9
Deteriorated 73.4 26.7 28.4 25.2 46.3 37.2 42.5 42.4
Welfare index* –71.8 –9.3 –15.8 –15.1 –37.7 –28.2 –32.7 –31.9
Table 1. Change in answers to the question: “How has your personal financial situation changed over the past three months?”, %
*Welfare index (the difference of variation of positive and negative answers)
Answer 09’11 12’12 12’13 03’14 03’15 06’15 09’15 12’15
In the right direction 17.0 33.5 31.9 40.2 36.9 34.6 34.8 36.7
In the wrong direction 68.5 46.1 54.1 46.2 45.8 49.4 48.0 50.9
Difficult to answer/No answer 14.5 20.4 14.0 13.6 17.3 16.0 17.2 12.4
Index of the correctness of the line –51.5 –12.6 –22.2 –6.0 –8.9 –14.8 –13.2 –14.2
Table 2. Change in answers to the question: “In your opinion, is the situation in our country developing in the right or wrong direction?”, %
Answer 06’11 12’12 12’13 03’14 03’15 06’15 09’15 12’15
Will improve 11.9 23.3 12.5 24.0 23.1 21.7 20.6 16.5
Will not change 20.3 34.6 46.1 45.0 36.1 36.0 37.2 40.2
Will become worse 55.5 29.7 35.9 26.1 33.6 36.5 36.2 36.4
Index of expectations –43.6 –6.4 –23.1 –2.1 –10.5 –14.8 –15.6 –19.9
Table 3. Change in answers to the question: “How will the socio-economic situation change in Belarus in the years to come?”, %

These tables show that in the period of 2011–2014 there were time lags and a lack of linear correspondence with the state of the economy. In 2013, when revenues continued to grow, the assessments of private welfare, the course and prospects of the domestic economy worsened in comparison with 2012. In 2014, when income growth stopped, the course and prospects indicators improved due to the ‘echo’ of the increased revenues of 2012–2013 and due to a modest but safe situation in comparison with that in Ukraine. At the same time the standard of living index remained almost unchanged.

Economic difficulties in late 2014 and 2015 had an immediate impact on assessments and expectations: the values of all indices went down. The most sharply declining index was the standard of living index, its highest (negative) value in the March poll was apparently a direct result of the devaluation and the panic of late 2014. The value of this particular index as the least susceptible to ideological influence remained lower during the whole year than in 2013, however it was exceeding the catastrophic values of the critical 2011.

The worsening of the assessments of the current economic situation and its prospects did not cause a corresponding increase in society's willingness to change anything. Thus, in December 2015 the ratio of those who preferred to maintain the current situation, and those who wished changes was the same as in December 2014: 36.7% vs 55.4% (in December 2010 it was 18.0% vs 70.1%).

The number of those who believe that internal and foreign policy of Belarus in the next five years will change dramatically, decreased significantly: if in December 2014, 34.5% considered it possible, 45.9% considered it unlikely and 13.8% considered it impossible, then in December 2015 these figures were 27.5%, 51.6% and 16.1% correspondingly. If in June 2011, in the midst of the economic crisis, 16.0% confirmed their willingness to participate in rallies and pickets to express their opinion and 13.6% were ready for strikes, then at the end of 2015 only 13.4% and 2.0% respectively expressed their readiness for such actions.

The worst election for Alexander Lukashenko

The growth of social pessimism in the socio-political dimension expressed itself in the worse attitude to the authorities. Compared with December 2014 confidence index decreased almost in all governmental institutions, including the president. The presidential election also became an indicator of this attitude. The president’s ‘resilience’ was enough to hold the election and win it. But the election campaign and its results became a ‘close call’.

Contrary to the hopes of the opposition, the boycott of the 2015 election did not take place. However, according to the IISEPS data, the turnout of 70.2% was the lowest in presidential elections during Lukashenko’s presidency: in 2001 it was 85.0%; in 2006 – 92.0%, in 2010 – 88.0%. At all previous elections in the last months before the vote, there was a surge in the rating of the incumbent president, and the elections passed at the level of a peak rating.

In 2015, a noticeable decline in the popularity of the President occurred in the first quarter, then there was an increase, and before the elections a new decline occured: in September 2015, 45.7% of respondents said that they would vote for Lukashenko, in December 2015, only 35.6% reported that they actually voted for him in the October election (see Table 4).

Date 12’13 03’14 06’14 09’14 12’14 03’15 06’15 09’15 12’15
Rating 34.8 39.8 39.8 45.2 40.0 34.2 38.6 45.7 35.6
Table 4. Overview of the electoral rating of President Lukashenko, %

If we focus on the share of votes out of the number of the voters, then according to the IISEPS, the result of 2015 was the worst during Lukashenko’s presidency: in September 2001, he got 57.0% votes, in March 2006 – 63.0% in December 2010 – 58.0%, in October 2015 – 50.1%. Compared to previous elections the number of those who thought that the election results were rather “definitely falsified” increased significantly (see Table 5).

Answer 04’06 12’10 12’15
Definitely valid 38.1 32.7 24.6
Rather valid 25.6 29.9 27.5
Rather falsified 14.1 16.2 25.2
Definitely falsified 14.9 13.2 9.2
Difficult to answer/No answer 7.3 8.0 13.5
Table 5. Change in answers to the question: “In your opinion, are the election results announced by the Central Election Commission valid or falsified?”, %

The phenomenon of Tatiana Karatkevich and the ‘third Belarus’

The sensation of the election was the result of the opposition candidate and activist of the Tell the Truth campaign, Tatiana Karatkevich. A year ago, an unknown activist won the support of 15.7% of all voters (22.3% of the number of those who came to vote). This result is comparable with the best results of Lukashenko’s main opponents at the previous elections: Uladzimir Hancharyk, the candidate from united opposition forces, received a quarter of the votes in 2001, Aliaksandr Milinkevich got 18.3% of the votes in 2006, and Uladzimir Niakliajeu got 9.7% votes in 2010.

In the latest election Tatiana Karatkevich was the only opposition candidate, which can be regarded as her advantage. However, little publicity before the election and a sharp criticism of colleagues from the democratic camp became factors that acted against her. The fact that Karatkevich’s final result was not worse than that of much more famous predecessors, implicitly suggests that in 2015 the potential of dissatisfaction and need for alternative was quite high in society.

In addition, the analysis of the results of the vote for Karatkevich showed the presence of a part of the population that had previously remained in the shadow of the confrontation of Lukashenko’s traditional electorate and the classic opposition electorate. IISEPS analysis of the results of the 2006 election was called “Another Alexander – another Belarus”. It showed that the voters of Lukashenko and Milinkevich differed from each other as a mirror image: the incumbent President won the votes of the elderly, while the main opposition candidate won the votes of the young, Lukashenko's voters favored a Union with Russia, Milinkevich’s voters preferred integration with the EC, etc.

The polls results show that Karatkevich’s electorate is a kind of the ‘third type of Belarus’. To compare Karatkevich’s electorate with other electorates we will use the answers to the open question concerning the hypothetical voting in the presidential election (IISEPS poll of December 2015). 33.3% of the respondents put the name of Lukashenko, 9.9% put the name of Karatkevich. In addition, the names of 16 more politicians were listed. Let us choose the politicians with democratic orientation out of them and consider their joint electorate, which we will call ‘the opposition outside the election’. They are Kazulin, Milinkevich, Paznyak, Liabedzka, Shushkevich, Ramanchuk, Kastusiou, Niakliajeu, Sannikau, Statkevich and Dashkevich; their total electorate is 8.0%.

According to most socio-demographic characteristics, Karatkevich’s electorate was intermediate between the electorate of the incumbent President and that of the ‘opposition outside the election’. The share of pensioners and people over 60 years among Karatkevich’s supporters was bigger (13.6%) than that of the ‘opposition outside the election’ (9.0%), but smaller than that of Lukashenko (40.1%). The number of respondents with higher education among Karatkevich’s voters was 25.8%, among the supporters of the ‘opposition outside the election’ it was 39.0% and among Lukashenko’s electorate it was 15.7%. Especially impressive are the differences in the type of settlement: almost every second supporter of ‘the opposition outside the election’ is a metropolitan, Karatkevich’s supporters are distributed evenly between Minsk and the village.

Regarding political preferences, the differences are even greater. Karatkevich’s voters support market reforms (70.9%), though not as actively as voters of the ‘opposition outside the elections’ (81.9%), while among Lukashenko’s supporters those who favor ‘market reforms’ count for only 38.4%. The electorate of the ‘opposition outside the election’ rather trust the opposition parties, while Karatkevich’s electorate assess them quite negatively, but not as much as Lukashenko’s supporters.

The same situation is seen in the question regarding the Russian annexation of the Crimea. The electorate of the ‘opposition outside the election’ mostly condemns it, while Karatkevich’s electorate mostly supports it. Supporters of the ‘opposition outside the election’ choose European integration and Karatkevich’s supporters are divided in a geopolitical choice.

This does not mean that the candidate of the Tell the Truth campaign had found the ‘golden key’ to the Belarusian politics or paved the way to success. But at least she showed to the Belarusian society something important about it, something that the society had not known about itself before.

Facing Russia: away from Europe

The polls in 2015 recorded a growth of pro-Russian sentiment and a dramatic decline in pro-European sentiment (see Table 6).

Answer 12’08 12’10 12’12 12’13 03’14 12’14 03’15 06’15 09’15 12’15
Unification with the Russian Federation 46.0 38.1 37.7 36.6 51.5 44.9 46.5 51.4 52.7 53.5
Membership in the European Union 30.1 38.0 43.4 44.6 32.9 34.2 30.8 31.4 26.4 25.1
Difficult to answer/No answer 23.9 23.9 18.9 18.8 15.6 20.9 22.7 17.2 20.9 21.4
Table 6. Change in answers to the question: “If you had to choose between integration with Russia and joining the European Union, which would you choose?”, %

It is not without ground that the decrease in pro-European sentiment of Belarusians is caused by the acute problems in the European Union: the ongoing migration crisis, Islamic terrorism, especially the November terrorist attacks in Paris. Although the problem of migrants is not a problem of Belarus, at least at the present time, the vast majority of respondents objected to their admission in Europe. Most Belarusians (52.2%) think that “it is necessary to send refugees back and not to let them in as they are strangers to Europe”, and less than one third of Belarusians believe that refugees should be accepted because of humanitarian considerations. The EU has a slightly different stand on the question of migrants, which partly caused the decline in the share of the Belarusians who are Europe-oriented.

Also an overwhelming majority of respondents opposed the participation of Belarus in the fight against international terrorism. Europe is not only a region of prosperity, but also a target of Islamist terrorist attacks. Belarusians do not want to show practical solidarity with the attacked Europe and become the next target for an attack: 57.4% are against Belarus participating in the fight against terrorism, while 34.2% support it.

However, no mass ‘westerphobia’ is observed in Belarus. An overwhelming majority of respondents welcomed the easing of the EU sanctions against the official Minsk (see Table 7).

Answer %
“This is a wrong decision: the Belarusian regime has not changed, they shouldn't have eased the sanctions” 19.1
“This is a right decision: Belarus released political prisoners and the European Union took a step in response” 37.5
“This is an insufficient decision: sanctions must be lifted completely and without conditions” 28.5
Difficult to answer/No answer 14.9
Table 7. Change in answers to the question: “In October, the EU suspended the visa ban on several hundred Belarusian officials, including President Lukashenko, for 4 months. How do you assess this decision?”

In 2015 the Belarusians’ support of Russian policy in Ukraine remained roughly at the same level. This concerns both the annexation of the Crimea and Moscow's support of the rebellion in the Donbas region (see Table 8, 9).

Answer 06’14 09’14 12’14 03’15 06’15 09’15 12’15
“This is imperialist seizure, occupation” 26.9 27.2 31.6 22.0 21.5 26.5 20.2
“This is the return of Russian land, the restoration of historical justice” 62.2 59.9 56.8 58.5 62.3 57.4 65.7
Difficult to answer/No answer 10.9 12.9 11.6 19.5 16.2 16.1 14.1
Table 8. Change in answers to the question: “How do you assess the annexation of the Crimea to Russia?”, %
Answer 12’14 03’15 06’15 09’15
“Yes, the people of Novorossiya have the right to self-determination” 49.5 42.0 47.4 47.1
“No. I support the territorial integrity of Ukraine” 22.1 25.5 27.0 28.1
“There is no Novorossiya, there is Russian aggression against Ukraine” 18.4 15.9 10.5 12.0
Difficult to answer/No answer 10.0 16.6 15.1 12.8
Table 9. Change in answers to the question: “Do you support the independence of Novorossiya (New Russia)?”, %

Generally the attitude of Belarusians to the Russian military operation in Syria was positive. Only every fifth of the respondents considered that “Russia once again got into other people's business and demonstrated its imperial manners”, 30% shared the opinion that “this campaign is the Russian opposition to the global dominance of the West”. A relative majority (48.7%) supported the official Russian stand, according to which “Russia is fighting against terrorism in Syria which threatens the whole world”.

However, respondents did not want Belarus to take part in military actions of any kind. As it has been mentioned, the Belarusians do not welcome the participation of their country in the international fight against terrorism. They do not show much enthusiasm against placing a Russian military airbase in Belarus either, only 27.0% support this idea and over one third (33.9%) is against it.

“Our winner”

One of the few events of the year which caused positive emotions among Belarusians was the Nobel Prize in literature for 2015 that was given to the writer Svetlana Aleksievich: 57.0% of respondents said that for them it is “a matter of pride and global recognition of Aleksievich’s talent”, less than 20% evaluated the event as “a minor phenomenon, one foreign award among others”, and less than 10.0% said it was “an attempt of the West to hurt Russia and Belarus”.

At the same time what comes to the front is the fact that the attitude to the writer, who has a very clear political position and publicly condemns the leaders of Belarus and Russia and their policies, did not depend much on the attitude of respondents to these leaders. Among those who trust the President of Belarus, 55.0% said they are proud of Aleksievich’s Nobel Prize, compared to 59.0% of those who distrust Lukashenko. Among those who consider the Russian annexation of the Crimea “a fair return of the Russian lands” 57% are proud of the Belarusian Nobel laureate. A similar attitude was expressed by 61.0% of those who consider this action of Russia an imperialist seizure. Among the supporters of the Belarusian integration with Russia 59.0% are proud of the compatriot-winner, among supporters of the European integration there were 54.0% who welcomed Aleksievich.

Perhaps the most popular mechanism of such attitude was a kind of ‘fan reaction’ that is “ours has won”. However, it should be noted that the discrepancy between the political views of respondents and those of the writer cannot change their attitude to her. In other words, the Nobel Prize of Alexievich became one of the few phenomena that caused a strong positive consensus in the Belarusian society.


In 2015 the Belarusians assessed both their well-being and economic prospects of the country not as very positive. These sentiments did not lead to direct protests; however, they were reflected in the decline of governmental popularity, and in protest vote for Tatiana Karatkevich, the only opposition candidate in the presidential election. The analysis of her electorate shows the presence of a large group of the population for whom radical political views are not typical, but who nevertheless want radical changes in their country.

Poll data showed a high support of Russian policy in Ukraine (the Crimea, Donbass) and in Syria. At the same time there is a decline in pro-European sentiment, caused both by the confrontation between Russia and the EU over Ukraine and the internal problems of the EU, such as the migration crisis. However, the Belarusians are not inclined to share with Russia its ‘Empire burden’, to pay money and blood for a global role on the world stage.

The deteriorating economic situation of the country generates an increased demand for an alternative. However, the formula of the hymn of the proletarians (the Internationale): “We’ll change henceforth the old tradition, and spurn the dust to win the prize!” is not a choice of the Belarusians, at least at the present time: they are ready to support only a moderate alternative.