The latest survey of the Public Opinion Fund (FOM) shows that Russian citizens’ opinions of the U.S. have begun to worsen. It is also interesting that America evokes negative associations from 27 percent of respondents and positive associations from only 15 percent. Experts point out that the responses also give evidence of deeper-level changes.

The most recent conflicts between Russia and the U.S., on issues of adoption and politics, have shown up in a change in Russians’ attitudes to America.

The routine FOM survey, conducted Feb. 9-10 in 100 populous areas, attests to the change. 1,500 respondents answered questions on the U.S.; the resulting picture illustrates a surface change occurring in the national consciousness — and tectonic shifts.

Dynamics

According to FOM statistics, in Feb. 2013, 18 percent of those surveyed had a negative opinion of the U.S., as opposed to 17 percent in early 2001. Against this background, the drop in positive opinion was significant — from 35 percent in 2001 to 23 percent — and there was also a considerable growth in indifference, from 43 percent to 56 percent.

54 percent of Russians think that the U.S. as a nation is unfriendly toward our country (47 percent in 2001); a mere 27 percent consider America friendly. On that point there has been a marked decline from 36 percent.

Russians suppose that a large portion of their fellow citizens are indifferent toward the U.S. and here the dynamics are subject to common logic: 40 percent versus 26 percent in 2001. Those who believed that their neighbors had a favorable opinion of the U.S. amounted to 21 percent (versus an earlier 32 percent).

Respondents’ opinions on American attitudes toward Russia, it may be, are the only thing that hasn’t changed. Today 25 percent of Russians think that Americans’ opinion of us is bad, 13 percent that it is good and 33 percent are convinced that people in the U.S. are indifferent to Russia. Surveys 12 years ago registered similar numbers.

Associations

Associations evoked by the U.S. are deserving of particular interest. Respondents were asked “what is the first thing that comes to mind” for a typical person off the street when hearing “United States of America.”

It is possible to break down the associations into four groups; here, the most negative opinions are in the lead: from open hostility (7 percent) to assessments of external political threat emanating from the U.S. (10 percent). “The wars it unleashes in various countries”; “Wars: Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam”; “It meddles in the politics of other countries, igniting wars”; “America reigns supreme, imposing its views and interests”; “As long as the U.S. exists, there will be wars in the world” — this line of associations turned out to be the most topical for respondents.

Answers such as “chaos” enter into this group: “disorder, outrage”; “mafia, narcotics”; “debauchery, brawling, murder”; “dissipation, looting”; “school shootings”; “killing among youth, lawlessness.”

27 percent of responders were in the first group, yielding to the second type, which can be called the “zero” group: More than a third of those surveyed couldn’t or wouldn’t say anything about America.

Positive associations garnered only 15 percent: for 8 percent of respondents, the U.S. is associated with wealth (“people there live well,” “affluence”), 3 percent with greatness (“strong state,” “superpower”). Another 3 percent think that democracy is found mainly in America; 1 percent associate the U.S. with “order” and “observance of the laws.”

26 percent of respondents made up the fourth group, the non-evaluative, “informational” answers. Russians have enough information on the U.S.; the land of Abraham Lincoln and George Washington is also associated with its currency and with brand names (like “McDonald’s”), Hollywood and history (“Christopher Columbus,” “Pearl Harbor,” etc.).

Conclusions

Political scientist Sergei Markov, Civic Chamber member and prorector of the Plekhanov Academy, believes that the results of the survey by VTsIOM (Russian Public Opinion Research Center) attest not to a growth in negative appraisals of the U.S. but that “the meaning of America in the eyes of Russians is falling.”

“There are plenty of Russians who view the U.S. positively, and if you want to speak of short-term reactions, then it’s all simple enough here: We have worse opinions of the U.S. when it commits acts that displease a normal person (for instance, bombing someone) and worse still when we ourselves begin to live better,” Markov opined to the newspaper Vzglyad.

“In the '90s,” the political scientist continues, “the U.S. was a strong factor, tremendous attention was riveted to it, but today our attention is centered on domestic politics — our lives depend on us, that’s important. And America is dissipating in a foggy haze, appearing as something not too important.”

The assistant director of the Center for Current Politics, Aleksei Zudin, considers the large number of people with insouciant attitudes to the U.S. the result of “declared indifference.” “That’s how it often is,” he said. “One finds it awkward to respond negatively, so one says ‘I don’t know’ — it’s a hidden form of judgment, a polite refusal to demonstrate negative feelings and emotions.”

In an interview with Vzglyad, Zudin also noted that “FOM’s statistics are nothing new; analogous questions were posed by both Levada and VTsIOM, the most prominent Russian polling organizations. And the results of the surveys show that Russians’ positions on the U.S. are consistent.”

“Russians began to change their opinion of America a long time ago, after the end of the 1990s; the turning point was Western intervention in Yugoslavia and the bombing of Belgrade. And for a long time we have seen sober evaluations of U.S. behavior in the international arena,” said Zudin, emphasizing that it is not a matter of anti-Americanism, but of pragmatism: “There are no grounds for rebuking Russians for anti-Americanism. Year after year, survey respondents consistently make the distinction between the U.S. as a state and Americans as people. That’s not bias, that’s realism.”