Separatism in Ukraine, by the (small) numbers

Separatism in Ukraine, by the (small) numbers

I found some interesting numbers in one of the past waves of the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) Omnibus survey.

In the September 2015 wave (specifically from September 9 to September 24, for anyone wanting that level of detail), KIIS asked more than 2,000 Ukrainians in face-to-face interviews:

  • Would you like to see your oblast secede from Ukraine and become an independent state?
  • Would you like to see your oblast secede from Ukraine and join another state?

KIIS interviewed in all Ukrainian-government controlled areas of Ukraine; they didn’t interview in Crimea or in the “LNR,” though they did interview in the “DNR” (they no longer do). For the overall Ukraine and regional numbers I’m only including Ukrainian government-controlled areas – I talk about the “DNR” numbers towards the end of this piece.

The resounding answer to both these questions? No – fewer than 2% of Ukrainians are interested in their oblast seceding and becoming an independent state or joining another state.

Well then.

The regional splits are pretty interesting, with western Ukrainians leading the very-small-number separatist brigade (4% for both questions) and eastern Ukrainians at the head of the slightly-larger-but-still-not-very-big crew of those who are ambivalent about separatism (11% for both questions). Boring graphs below.



I’ll draw your attention to the fact that the overwhelming majority of people in eastern Ukraine (that is, Kharkiv oblast and the Ukrainian government-controlled parts of Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts) state that they don’t want their oblast to secede and become either an independent state (88%) or join another state (85%).

Looking at some of the numbers by oblast is more striking, even when taking the small sample sizes into consideration.

Re: becoming an independent state:

  • Just under 9% of people in Zakarpattia (far western Ukraine, bordering Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania) said they’d like to see their oblast secede from Ukraine and become an independent state – the most of any oblast. There isn’t a particularly large sample size here but given what I know about the history, politics and demographics of Zakarpattia I’m not surprised to see higher than other oblasts.
  • Only 3% of people in Odessa oblast and in both Luhansk and Donetsk oblasts (reminder, only the Ukrainian government-controlled parts) said they’d like to see their oblast secede from Ukraine and become an independent state.
  • Exactly 0.00% of people in Kharkiv, Chernihiv, Zaporizhia and Sumy oblasts said they wanted to see their oblast become an independent state. Anyone wondering about the digits past the first two decimal points there should be advised it’s an infinite string of zeroes.

Re: joining another state:

  • Like above, just under 12% of people in Zakarpattia said they’d like to see their oblast secede from Ukraine and join another state. Again, the most of any oblast and not surprising.
  • Just over 6% of people in Donetsk oblast and 5% in Luhansk oblast (again, only the Ukrainian government-controlled parts) said they’d like to secede from Ukraine and join another state. Remember, the other parts of these oblasts are occupied by ostensibly separatist statelets…
  • More than 3% of people in Zaporizhia oblast, less than one percent of people in Dnipro and Kharkiv oblasts and a round 0.00% of people in Chernihiv and Sumy oblasts said they wanted to see their oblast join another state.

But what of separatism in the apparently separatist “DNR”? As I pointed out a few months ago, polling and surveying in a place the “DNR” can’t possibly be easy. I can only imagine how bad social desirability bias (“the tendency of [respondents] to give socially desirable responses instead of choosing responses that are reflective of their true feelings”) might be in an globally-unrecognized puppet state with a laundry list of human rights abuses to its name. It’s likely one of the main reasons no one, as far as I know, tries to do surveys there anymore.

So what did people in the “DNR” have to say about separatism compared to their Ukrainian government-controlled Donetsk oblast brethren across the “ceasefire” line?

As you can see below, the numbers are pretty different; they suggest a plurality in the “DNR” is in favour of becoming an independent state, but are equally split when it comes to joining another state (can’t imagine what other state they were thinking of).


Even if – if ­– these numbers actually reflect how residents of the “DNR” feel, it’s far from a ringing endorsement of separatism, especially when you consider the level of Ukraine-crucifies-children-level propaganda people there have been hit with over the past two years. And the same percentages of people say yes and no when they’re asked if they want to secede from Ukraine and join another state? Hardly confident numbers for an entity that already considers itself a “separatist” state.

Of course, this all assumes that there are next to no issues with social desirability bias there at all, that respondents definitely wouldn’t feel pressured to say certain things to a stranger in a fiefdom where they could be thrown “in the cellar” for being critical of the regime. OK.

Looking for a popular secessionist movement? You’re better off coming to see me than going to Ukraine.

September 2016 poll: Party preferences in Ukraine

September 2016 poll: Party preferences in Ukraine

The Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) released results from a new poll this week (link in Ukrainian).

They talked to 2,040 people between September 16 and 26, 2016 across Ukraine except for a) Crimea and b) areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts not controlled by the Ukrainian government (i.e., the useless-passport-offering “LNR”/”DNR”).

KIIS’ key findings, in brief:

  • Over the past six months support for Batkivshchyna has declined slightly, while support for Bloc Petro Poroshenko has increased slightly.
  • Support for the Opposition Bloc, Samopomich, Oleh Lyashko’s Radical Party and Hromadyanska Posytsia has remained largely the same.

KIIS’ data over time is below. If you have some moral objection to the quality of my jpeg you can go look at the original link.


Keep in mind this table above only includes Ukrainians who a) said they’d vote and b) knew who they were going to vote for – which is only 41% of people who actually took part in the survey. The table below includes regional breakdowns as well as figures for non-voters, undecided voters and those pesky ballot spoilers (though no Ukrainian Edible Ballot Society yet).

A few thoughts and speculations of mine from across the sea. Comments and whatnot welcome.

What of Batkivshchyna and Bloc Petro Poroshenko?

The numbers for Batkivshchyna and Bloc Petro Poroshenko in this poll are a bit different from Rating’s poll that I talked about in August, despite fieldwork only being about a month apart.

  • Batkivshchyna’s 15.4% here versus 18.3% in Rating’s poll (2.9% difference)
  • Bloc Petro Poroshenko’s 14.5% here versus 9.1% in Rating’s poll (5.4% difference)

The other parties over 5% here (Opposition Bloc, Samopomich, Radical Party and Hromadyanska Posytsia) are largely the same. As for Za Zhyttia I’ve just learned they came out of the Opposition Bloc in May.

But why the difference for Batkivshchyna/Bloc Petro Poroshenko? The “difficult to answer” might have something to do with this – 31.1% (!!) of people in this poll said they didn’t know who they were going to vote for, compared to 16.3% in Rating’s poll. (I go on at length about this below)

That’s….a big difference, so big it makes me think something’s up methodologically here. Are interviewers from these different firms following up with people who immediately respond “don’t know” in the same way? For example, are Rating’s interviewers prompted by their script to ask again, which leads some of those “don’t knows” to respond with a party whose name they know – which could often be Batkivshvchyna? Are KIIS’s prompted to do the opposite, to accept the “don’t know” answer without prompting for a different answer? I know from experience that the way interviewers are led and trained to follow up with respondents can make a difference.

I’m purely speculating – and I’m not saying either one of these is right or wrong – but to see that big a difference between two different polls by different firms using the same method (in-person interviewing) makes me think it could be down to something like this.

Of course, another explanation could be that the apparent increase for Bloc Petro Poroshenko and the apparent decline of Batkivshchyna are reflective of an actual, significant change in what people think over the course of a month. I doubt this.

Anyone know?

Region, region, region

No Ukrainian political party (as I understand it) has ever really been able to capture significant, meaningful support from all parts of the country. That doesn’t look like it’s about to change.

Parties like the PoR-remnant Opposition Bloc pick up almost all their support in southern and eastern Ukraine, while Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi’s Samopomich, not surprisingly, gets most of its support in western Ukraine. Even the two ‘big’ parties of Batkivshchyna and Bloc Petro Poroshenko can’t pull in consistent support across Ukraine, as you can see below in the absolute most cluttered PoS chart you’ll ever see.

“Your chart sucks.” -You, just now.

When the bottom of the table’s more interesting than the top

I’m most interested in what’s going on down here in the relegation zone, which I haven’t bothered to translate because I’m a) too lazy and b) if you’re reading this you’re probably Ukrainian/speak at least some Ukrainian and can read it better than me anyways.

First, the 5.8% of people who said they’d vote ‘against all’ or spoil the ballot. That’s high, even just for a poll; by way of comparison, in that debacle of a Hungarian referendum last week 4% of voters spoiled their ballot in protest, a figure I still can’t get over.

Second, the 22.3% of people who said they wouldn’t take part in voting. I don’t have much to say about this – I don’t actually think that’s a remarkably high or low number, though the difference from west to east (17% compared to 28%) is worth noting. Is this down to more western Ukrainians heading their own more recognizable parties (e.g., Sadovyi, Lyashko, Hrytsenko, Tyahnybok), or is it a matter of different regional political cultures and attitudes towards democracy and (non) voting showing through? Both?

Lastly, the 31.1% of people who said “difficult to say” (don’t know, basically). As someone schooled in the arcana of Canadian, British and American electoral politics I have to admit I don’t think I’ll ever be able to wrap my mind around the idea of almost a third of people not sure who they’re going to vote for.

This 31.1% figure says more to me about Ukrainian party politics and the state of Ukrainian democracy than any other figure here. No party, whether small, not-as-small or in-theory-biggest, seems able to capture the interest and imagination of post-Maidan Ukraine at all. To quote Sonic Youth, fragmentation is (still) the rule.


I’ve got my hands on the most recent KIIS Omnibus data (that’s publicly available – from May 2016). Been running some numbers. Will have some reasonably interesting analysis of my own in a few days.