Publication: Prism Volume: 3 Issue: 9

Polls show that many Ukrainians are disappointed with the state of democracy in Ukraine

By Volodymyr Zviglyanich

The Institute of Sociology of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences and the Democratic Initiatives Foundation have been conducting nationwide public opinion polls since 1991. Polling is carried out by means of standardized interviews, using the Institute of Sociology’s republic-wide polling network, the target population being the adult population of Ukraine (those aged 18 years and over). In each region, the mix of respondents selected for interview corresponds to the share of the region’s population in the population of the country as a whole. The quota principle was observed in choosing respondents so that their sex, age and education reflected the regional distribution of these social and demographic characteristics. The margin of error is 2 percent.

The tables reproduced below make it possible to follow the evolution of public opinion in Ukraine and the social and political orientation of the population of the country.

Attitude Towards a Democratic Path of Development for Ukraine

The democratic orientation which was observed in the majority of the population on the eve of Ukraine’s August 1991 declaration of independence has been subjected to a serious test over the last few years. Judging from the polling results, belief in and support for a democratic future has gradually declined, giving way to the spread of anti-democratic sentiments. (See Table 1)


"How do you assess the state of democracy in Ukraine and the chances for its future development?" (Polling data from 1991-1996, expressed in percentage points.*)

Agree Disagree

Assessment of Democracy Nov. June Feb. Nov. June Feb.

1991 1993 1996 1991 1993 1996

Ukraine needs the same

type of development as

Western countries 56% 54% 49% 12% 18% 30%

We already have the same

type of democracy as

Western countries 6% 4% 5% 57% 74% 78%

Democracy will never take

root in our country 12% 23% 25% 42% 46% 48%

* Totals add up to less than 100% because this table does not include respondents who expressed no opinion.


The proportion of Ukrainian citizens who did not approve of Ukraine’s "Western direction" noticeably increased. Equally noticeable was the growth of confidence that Ukraine’s home-grown democracy had little in common with world models. And the proportion of people agreeing with the assertion that democracy has no chance of taking root in Ukraine also increased substantially, compared to 1991. These findings suggest that the course of democratic development espoused by the present government is producing an effect opposite of that intended. People’s expectations of democracy have not been fulfilled and have begun to ebb. The process has so far been a slow one, but the trend clearly presents a clear long-term threat to Ukraine’s democratic future.

Attitude Toward Form of Government

As in the rest of the post-Soviet space, the opinion is widely held in Ukraine that it is the president who ought to head the government and bear full responsibility for the country’s political course and economy. (Table 2)


"What, in your opinion, should be the president’s role in Ukraine?" (Polls from 1994-1996, expressed in percentage points.)

May 1994 May 1995 May 1996

N=1807 N=1810 N=1800

The president should head

the government and take full

responsibility for foreign and domestic

policy, as in the USA 53% 57% 47%

The president should share power with

the prime minister who should be confirmed

by parliament, as in France 10% 9% 11%

The president should be the head of

state and the "symbol of the nation" but

political authority should be vested not in

the president but in a prime minister chosen

by parliament, as in Italy or Germany 5% 5% 8%

Ukraine does not need a president at all 7% 4% 6%

No opinion 25% 26% 29%

By 1996, however, the confidence of the majority in a presidential form of government modeled on that in the USA had been shaken a little.


Attitude Toward Ukraine’s Foreign-Policy Priorities

The Ukrainian Population’s Choice of the Most Preferable Path of Political Development (polls from 1994-1996 expressed in percentage points).

UKRAINE’S POLITICAL May 1994 May 1995 May1996

DEVELOPMENT N=1807 N=1810 N=1800

Expanding ties within the framework of

the CIS should be the first priority 41% 39% 32%

Establishing ties with developed Western

countries should be the first priority 13% 14% 14%

Ukraine should rely above all on its own

resources and consolidate its independence 13% 14% 19%

Ukraine should develop relations first and

foremost with Russia 18% 15% 16%

Ukraine’s various regions should choose

their own path 4% 4% 4%

A Baltic-Black Sea Union should be formed 2% 1% 1%

Other 2% 2% 2%

No opinion 10% 11% 12%


In this table, the greatest interest is presented by changes in attitudes toward developing relations with the CIS as opposed to self-reliance. Interest in the CIS has waned slightly in the last two years while the proportion of citizens who think Ukraine should rely on its own resources has grown proportionately. It is too soon to tell whether this is a temporary phenomenon or a permanent growth in self-confidence. So far, the population’s choice of geopolitical priorities for Ukraine is rather limited. Movement toward the West remains a relatively unpopular alternative, in spite of the obvious leaning in that direction observed in the government. Russia and the CIS seem set to remain the main focus of attention and will continue to exercise a strong influence over the development of Ukrainian foreign policy.

As Table 4 displays, however, Ukraine’s foreign policy options are also determined by regional differences in opinion.


"Which path would you prefer Ukraine to take?" (answers by region)


Expanding ties

within frame-

work of CIS

should be top

priority 36% 17% 44% 48% 50% 37% 41%

Relations with

Russia should

be top priority 9% 12% 20% 19% 12% 36% 18%

Create a


Sea Union 1% 2% 1% 2% 3% 1% 2%

Establishing ties

with developed

Western countries

should be top priority 17% 29% 12% 9% 10% 2% 13%

Ukraine should rely

on its own resources,


independence 18% 24% 12% 9% 12% 7% 13%

Ukraine’s regions

should choose their

own path 6% 6% 2% 5% 4% 4% 4%

Other 7% 2% 2% 3% 1% 1% 2%

TOTAL (sample)

(percent) 90 321 450 672 159 90

100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0 100.0



The Regions:

1. Kiev;

2. Western (Volynskaya, Rovenskaya, Ivano-Frankovskaya, Lvovskaya, Ternopolskaya, Zakarpatskaya, and Chernovitskaya oblasts);

3. Central (Zhitomirskaya, Chernigovskaya, Kievskaya [except for Kiev], Vinnitskaya, Kirovgradskaya, Poltavskaya, Cherkasskaya, and Khmelnitskaya oblasts);

4. Eastern (Sumskaya, Kharkovskaya, Donetskaya, Luganskaya, Dnepropetrovskaya, and Zaporozhskaya oblasts);

5. Southern (Nikolaevskaya, Odesskaya, and Khersonskaya oblasts);

6. Crimea.



The data presented here suggest that Ukrainian public opinion has returned to the state in which it was in early 1991. This trend is particularly noticeable as regards evaluations of democratization and economic progress. In the eyes of many members of the population, more than five years of independence have not contributed to the democratic development of the state, democratization of popular opinion, or the dismantling of residual totalitarian institutions. Public mistrust in political institutions is growing, as is political apathy. Many members of the Ukrainian public believe that organized crime plays a decisive role in state affairs.

Volodymyr Zviglyanich is a senior research fellow of the Ukrainian Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Sociology, a research associate at George Washington University and a Senior Fellow of the Jamestown Foundation.