A new poll released by the International Republican Institute (IRI) in mid-October has found high voter enthusiasm ahead of the upcoming October 25 local elections, a continuing frustration over the pace of reforms and a troubling lack of understanding about the reforms being pursued. The poll also found increased public support for NATO membership as Ukrainians seek greater security in light of Russia's hybrid war in Crimea and the east of the country.
Interest is High in October 25 Local Elections
On October 25, Ukrainians across the country will go to the polls to elect mayors and regional and city councils. These elections are critical as newly-elected officials will see increased authority if Ukraine's parliament passes the proposed decentralization law that is central to President Poroshenko’s reform efforts. Seventy-five percent of respondents said they were either very likely or somewhat likely to vote in the elections, a 10 percent increase since IRI’s July poll. Voter enthusiasm is highest in western Ukraine, though strong majorities in eastern and southern Ukraine also intend to vote (70 percent and 69 percent, respectively).
Continuing Frustration with Pace of Reforms
As in IRI’s previous poll, Ukrainians continued to express frustration with the pace of change in their country. Sixty-eight percent believed that things are going in the wrong direction, and only 11 percent approved of the job that parliament is doing. One possible explanation is the lack of information on the contents of the government’s reform packages. When asked to evaluate their knowledge of the decentralization/local governance amendments to the constitution, only 12 percent of respondents believed they were well informed of the reform contents. Similarly, only 12 percent believed the reforms would improve the situation in Ukraine, compared to 15 percent who believed it would worsen and 46 percent who believed it would not change anything. “As with IRI’s July poll, this new poll underscores the fact that Ukraine is at a critical juncture,” said Stephen Nix, director of IRI’s Eurasia programs. “People’s frustration continues to grow with the pace of and lack of information on reforms. If the government is going to succeed in passing the reforms that so many demanded on the Maidan, they must do more to reach out to voters and explain the reform package to citizens.” In contrast to the confusion over the contents of decentralization reform, the poll indicated overwhelming support for the police reforms, with 75 percent supporting the introduction of new police in the cities of Kyiv, Lviv and Odesa. “This is one of the first reforms that Ukrainians can see and it is a clear example of how positively people respond to reforms when they see them take effect in their communities,” said Nix.
Record Support for NATO Membership
IRI’s poll saw the highest level of support for NATO membership in any survey the Institute has conducted. When asked whether they would vote for Ukraine to join NATO in a and referendum, a record 48 percent of respondents said they would — a seven point increase since IRI’s last survey — while only 28 percent said they would vote against this decision. In addition, a strong majority (57 percent) continue to support Ukraine’s integration with the European Union. These levels of support for NATO membership would translate into a landslide victory if the issue is put to a national referendum.
Until the outbreak Russia's hybrid war in Crimea and east Ukraine, NATO membership had never enjoyed high levels of support among Ukrainians, with polls usually showing approval of membership hovering below the twenty percent mark. However, since the invasion of Crimea and the subsequent conflict in the Donbas, support for NATO membership has rocketed among Ukrainians as the country seeks security guarantees in light of Russian aggression. This latest survey will lead to increased calls for the Ukrainian government to adopt NATO standards in the Ukrainian military as the country prepares itself for what would be a long and demanding membership application process.
It remains unclear whether the NATO alliance would welcome a direct Ukrainian membership bid. Although NATO leaders have stated that any state is welcome to apply if it meets membership criteria, individual member states have downplayed Ukraine's chances, while Russia has repeatedly called Ukrainian NATO membership a 'red line'.
Poll Offers Nationwide Insight in Ukrainian Mood
The poll was conducted in all regions of Ukraine (with the exception of Russian-occupied Crimea and the occupied regions of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts) from September 7-21, 2015, with an oversample in the Zakarpattia region. The national survey had a randomly selected sample of 1,200 permanent residents of Ukraine aged 18 and older and eligible to vote. The margin of error does not exceed plus or minus 2.8 percent, and the response rate was 63.9 percent.
The survey was conducted by Rating Group Ukraine and was funded by the US Agency for International Development.