The Magic Of Numbers (Once Again About Anti-Americanism In Russia)

Will those who believe that former president Putin’s "nationalist foreign policy" has given rise to rampant anti-Americanism in Russia, please stand up?

Wow, what a crowd!

I already blogged on the topic back in January.  The hero of my post was a Alastair Gee from the U.S. News & World Report.  In a January 18 article, Mr. Gee set out to prove that:

"Taking their cues from President Vladimir Putin and the state-controlled media, almost half of Russians now believe America’s objective is the complete destruction of Russia …"

(As a side-note, the idea of blaming Putin for anti-Americanism in Russia is hardly new.  In 2000 (!), a book was published under fascinating title: "Anti-Americanism in Russia: From Stalin to Putin."  Equally impressive was the title of its Chapter 7: "Vladimir Putin and the Future of Anti-Americanism."

Judging from the spelling of their last names — Eric Shiraev and Vladislav Zubok — it seems that the authors were inspired by the slogan "Vladimir Lenin and the Future of Proletarian Revolution.")

To make his point, Mr. Gee resorted to what can be called a "creative" interpretation of public polls.  For example, he was referring to a survey that showed that from 2006 to 2007, the percentage of Russians with a "very positive/mostly positive" attitude toward America increased from 51 percent (2006) to 64 percent (2007).  Nevertheless, for some mysterious reason, Mr. Gee interpreted these numbers as evidence of "rising" anti-Americanism in Russia. 

More to that, in another poll quoted by Mr. Gee, 18 percent of respondents opined that the United States is the country with which "Russia [will] have the most inimical or strained relations with in the nearest 10-15 years…"    

Mr. Gee’s interpretation?  Fasten your seatbelts:

" … [A] poll by the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Center suggests that Russians consider the United States to be Russia’s greatest enemy."

(Should Mr. Gee choose to appear on the popular TV show "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?", I predict he won’t last more than 5 minutes.)

Fortunately for all of us, "the state-owned Russian Public Opinion Research Center", VCIOM, has addressed the question of U.S.-Russia relations yet again.  Their findings published on July 23 settle the issue of "rising" anti-Americanism in Russia once and for all. 

The beauty of the VCIOM’s study is in its simplicity.  It asks a simple question — "What is your general attitude toward the United States?" — and compares responses given in July 2003 vs. June 2008 (the exact time period when the supposedly "nationalist foreign policy" of former president Putin should have most severely affected the psyche of the Russian populace).

In 2003, 48 percent of the respondents defined their feelings toward the United States as "very positive/generally positive"; in 2008, 49 percent expressed the same sentiment.  In 2003, 40 percent called their feelings toward the U.S. as "generally negative/very negative"; only 29 percent did the same in 2008.

(Will those seeing "rising" anti-Americanism in Russia in these numbers, please raise their hands?)

There is one aspect of the VCIOM’s study that makes it particularly interesting.  The younger the participants of the survey were, the better their attitude toward the U.S.  The ratios of "very positive/generally positive" responses were 56 percent in the age group of 25-34 and 59 percent in the age group of 18-24.

A year ago, The Washington Post published an article by Sarah Mendelson and Theodore Gerber under a flashy headline "Young Russia’s Enemy No. 1."   Mendelson and Gerber described "a survey we commissioned by the Levada Analytic Center of 1,802 Russians ages 16 to 29."  The study concluded (unfortunately, the authors provided no link to the raw data, so it was impossible to verify their claim) that:

"… a majority of young Russians view the United State as enemy No. 1."

And who is to blame?  But of course, "…Putin’s rhetoric is driving this development."

Give Mendelson and Gerber some credit.  Their primary concern was that the hostility of a new generation of Russians toward the United States may jeopardize the relations between the two countries "long after Putin is gone" and that the next U.S. administration will have to work hard "to reverse the tide of growing anti-American sentiment among young Russians."

The VCIOM study provides much needed relief to Mendelson, Gerber and their supporters.  Putin is gone (sort of), and there is no "tide of growing anti-American sentiment among young Russians."  The next American president will be able to attend other, more pressing, issues.

About Eugene Ivanov

Eugene Ivanov is a PMI-certified Innovation Management Consultant who helps organizations increase the efficiency of their internal and external innovation programs.
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