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Do ordinary Russians support the war?

Expert panel discusses how media crackdown affects support for Ukraine invasion

EVANSTON, Ill. — Experts on Russian public opinion are conveningTuesday, March 15 to discuss how support for the invasion of Ukraine is affected by Moscow’s recent crackdown on the news media and other avenues of domestic dissent.

The Northwestern experts are also available to speak with media and can be reached by contacting Mohamed Abdelfattah at

The event is sponsored by the Northwestern Buffett Institute for Global Affairs and the department of political science at Weinberg’s College of Arts and Sciences. It’s free and open to the public. Registration is required here. Members of the media must RSVP with Mohamed Abdelfattah at

The panelists are:

Olga Kamenchuk is an associate professor of research and instruction with the Institute for Policy Research and the School of Communication at Northwestern. She has 15 years of professional polling and public opinion research experience in the former Soviet Union and is a leading expert on Russian public opinion. Her scholarship focuses on international public opinion and strategic public diplomacy.

Vasily Gatov is a senior fellow at USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership & Policy and an expert on Russian media. Prior to joining USC, Gatov worked as a journalist for prominent Russian media organizations for over 20 years. His last position was director of the Novisti Media Lab for RIA Novosti.

Jeffrey Trimble is the former deputy director of the U.S. Global Media Agency (formerly Broadcast Board of Governors), former acting president of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, and former Moscow Bureau Chief for U.S. News & World Report. Currently a lecturer at the Ohio State University School of Communication, Jeffrey has over 30 years of experience as an international journalist, editor and media manager. Fluent in Russian, he is an expert on international and Russian media.

The panel will be moderated by Erik Nisbet, Owen L. Coon Professor of Policy Analysis & Communication, and director of the Center for Communication & Public Policy in the School of Communication at Northwestern. His research lies at the intersection of media, public opinion and public policy in the areas of science, technology, and environmental policy, governance and elections, and international security. An expert on cross-national surveys, Nisbet has led research projects in the United States, Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Turkey, Iran, France, Great Britain, Germany, Poland and several Arab countries.

Older Russians are twice as likely to support the war than younger Russians’

Said Olga Kamenchuk: “Among Russians, the major cleavages in public opinion about the war are based on age and media use. Older Russians are twice as likely to support the war than younger Russians. Those who rely mostly on TV as the major source of information are also significantly more likely to support the invasion than those who rely on the internet.

“Numerous opinion polls conducted in Russia over the past two weeks demonstrate that the majority of the Russian public support the invasion of Ukraine (58-71% depending on the poll). Support for the war amongst the public seems to have increased since the beginning of the invasion due to massive domestic propaganda efforts by the Russian government. However, the level of support for the war on Ukraine is not like the “Crimean consensus” observed after annexation of Crimea in 2014 – at that time 85-95% of Russians supported their country’s aggressive actions against Ukraine. 

What to make of Alexei Navalny’s poll?

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny recently released a poll showing declining support for the war among ordinary Russians. Associate professor of political science Jordan Gans-Morse warns that the poll may reflect Navalny’s own base rather than give a view of the wider Russian public.

Said Gans-Morse: “In the current environment of extreme censorship in Russia, it's very difficult to know what to make of polls and of public opinion in general. The polls Navalny's team is running most likely disproportionately reflect the views of Navalny supporters and/or younger Russians, not the views of the broader Russian population.

“Survey firms that are conducting polls using representative samples are highly constrained, for recently enacted draconian laws force them to use survey questions that refer to a ‘special military operation,’ not to a ‘war.’ But despite these challenges, all available evidence — including the fact that Putin felt compelled to quickly implement these new censorship laws — suggests that Russian support for this horrific invasion of Ukraine is rather tepid. 

“Support would undoubtedly decline rapidly if Russians knew the truth about the horrors their army is inflicting on Ukrainians. Sadly, not only do many Russians not have direct access to the truth, but they have absorbed so much propaganda that even when they receive dispatches of reality in the form of phone calls, texts, or emails from relatives and friends in Ukraine, they frequently insist that this is ‘fake news.’”

Gans-Morse is the author of “Property Rights in Post-Soviet Russia: Violence, Corruption and the Demand for Law.” He can be reached at or by contacting Stephanie Kulke at 773-501-4360.