Monday, February 06, 2006

"Asymmetric Response of Russian Citizens toward American Goodwill"

Interesting article that I happened upon in Demokratizatsiya. Demokratizatsiya is an international journal providing coverage and analysis of post-Soviet democratization. Most of it appears to be rather high-minded writing and studies, released on an annual basis.

One article that caught my eye, by Vladimir Zvonovsky, Director of the Fund for Social Researches, presented the results of his sociological research on how people in the Russia Federation and the United States perceive each other.

Basically, his work shows that Russians don't have a very favorable view of the United States ... despite Americans having a rather favorable and improving view of Russia. His work also shows that Russians view the US (and other outside nations) as a threat.
It is important to note the marked asymmetry in American and Russian attitudes toward one another and to recognize that negative perceptions are concentrated primarily on the Russian side. According to Gallup poll data, the past three years have witnessed a steady improvement in American attitudes toward Russians. To take November 1999 - when just slightly more than one third (38 percent) of Americans viewed Russia positively, while more than half of the total number (58 percent) viewed it negatively - as the reference point, one clearly sees a steady improvement in attitudes over the following three years. Thus, in March 2000, the week before Russia's most recent presidential election, the share of positive attitudes rose to 40 percent, while negative perceptions decreased to 51 percent. Within another year (February 2001), positive attitudes topped negative ones, 52 percent to 42 percent. Finally, the February 4-6, 2002, poll results saw the share of positive perceptions rise to 66 percent. These were the highest levels in thirteen years, not seen since August 1991. Hence, although aggregated Russian attitudes toward the United States hover between neutral and slightly negative, Americans are demonstrating increased affability toward their former opponent.

Significant differences also present themselves when one examines how Russians and Americans rate one another's countries relative to other nations. As indicated in table 3, recent Gallup data rank modern Russia among the group of countries toward which the absolute majority (60-70 percent) of Americans share favorable attitudes. Russia shares this ranking with Mexico - America's southern neighbor and North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) partner - and Taiwan - a long-standing ally of the United States in Southeast Asia. Russia's entrance into this group clearly demonstrates its increasing favorable status in the eyes of the American public.

In marked contrast, data from the FOM indicate that, as of June 2002, practically every second Russian resident (50 percent) believed that the United States is an unfriendly country, while only 37 percent had the opposite opinion. Separate data for St. Petersburg indicate that, even among residents of this "window to the West," America was viewed as a threat. Only 43 percent of St. Petersburg respondents felt that the United States was not a threat to Russia, while 57 percent saw a real threat from overseas. Apparently, the closeness and intensity of contact that St. Petersburg residents enjoy with foreigners generally, and Americans in particular, does not necessarily result in warmer attitudes toward the United States.

Surveys administered during the past decade indicate that a high suspicion of the United States in relation to Russia's national security is one of the dramatic outcomes of the late 1990s, while only several years ago Russians expressed greater benevolence toward America. However, in all fairness, one should note that Russians' increasing ire has not limited itself to the United States, but has manifested in attitudes toward other states as well. Data from the All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM) indicate a steady decrease in the share of positive attitudes toward ten major countries - both "western" and "eastern." That said, the maximum decrease occurred in attitudes toward the United States (41 percent), while China enjoyed a decrease of only 2 percent. At the same time, the share of those who agree with the statement that "aggression from abroad threatens Russia" more than doubled from 18 percent to 40 percent. Clearly, among the Russian population, the second half of the 1990s witnessed an increasing distrust of foreign countries.

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