Citizens have high standards for those in public office but low expectations about forthcoming election

The results of the 2018 USAID/ENGAGE Civic Engagement Poll reports that almost half of all residents in Ukraine would be interested in participating in some kind of social activity. The greatest level of interest and active involvement respectively, take place on the local level, and with issues that directly reflect citizen needs and interests. Yet for those who did not get involved with any civic activity, they often cite a lack of time, interest, and energy as major barriers for active involvement. Civic engagement tends to increase with those who have higher incomes, more education, and those who live in more urban settings.  Additionally, civic engagement is the highest among middle-age and senior citizens. According to the poll, many citizens are growing tired and skeptical of reform and the state of the current government. Many believe that politicians do not care about citizens at all and a significant number of them are against the reform process all together. Citizens often cite corruption and incompetence of public officials as the greatest barriers for effective reform.

This executive summary provides an oversight of the key findings for Ukraine in relation to each of the broader research themes addressed in the survey.

The USAID/ENGAGE National Civic Engagement Poll is commissioned by Pact in the framework of the Enhance Non-Governmental Actors and Grassroots Engagement activity of USAID, implemented by Pact. The survey concentrates on gauging citizen engagement of and participation in, and public attitudes towards civil society organizations, as well as citizens’ participation and perception of reform processes in Ukraine. Pact conducts three waves of the survey per year to trace short and mid-term trends in citizen engagement in and awareness of civil society activities. The information below comes from the second wave of the survey, which was conducted by GfK Ukraine in January 2018.

Field interviews were conducted with residents of Ukraine aged 18 years and older, face-to-face at respondents’ homes. The size of the sample is 2001 respondents and its design corresponds to the distribution of adult population of Ukraine by age, sex, oblast and settlement type (excluding AR Crimea and those areas in Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts that are not presently controlled by the government.) The margin of error of the sample is 2.2% (excluding the design effect.) For comparison reasons, results of similar surveys that were conducted by Pact under the USAID/UNITER project are shown along with the current results.

The survey’s data and charts are available can be downloaded by registered website users.

Overview of Findings

Citizens display an interest in involvement, but are concerned with initiatives that are local and most relevant to their needs and interests

  • When presented with list of activities concerning issues in their local community, 52% of the respondents answered, “There is nothing that I am willing to do”. This indicates that approximately one out of two citizens are politically passive and are not willing to get involved in any civic activity locally. On the other hand, this also suggests that almost half of all residents in Ukraine would be interested in participating in some activity.
  • Citizen’s actual involvement in the last 12 months remains quite low. Despite increased knowledge about civic activism and their expressed willingness to participate, the overwhelming majority (80%, compared to 83% in Sep’17) did not participate in any CSO activity, often citing a lack of time, energy, and interest. Only one in five (20%, comparing to 15% in Sep’17) participated in at least one CSO activities during the last year.
  • Interest and participation are not uniform across activities. The highest degrees of interest and involvement correlate with those activities that have low barriers to participate. For example, the most popular activities, in terms of interest, are often immediately accessible like forming housing/street committees (32%) and reporting infrastructure complaints by phone (39%).
  • The highest level of current engagement is reported in creating housing committees (8%-9% of Ukrainians did that in the past 12 months). This demonstrates that respondents are interested in local community issues, indicating there should be broad non-politicized support for local social activism.
  • Activities that require knowledge, technical skill, and risk are less popular. These include commenting on legislation, forming advisory boards, and reporting corruption cases. CSOs should lower the barrier for participation by making involvement geographically accessible, covering labor costs, providing technical support, and acquiring risk on behalf of the citizen.

Citizens are tired and skeptical of current reforms and political parties

  • A segment of the population is ultimately against the implementation of reforms. 26% are against court/anti-corruption reform and 29% are against election reform. About a half of the population is against land and privatization reforms, and one in five (22%) are against all listed reforms. Despite the large-scale efforts to reform Ukrainian society, citizens of the country tend to be skeptical and pessimistic toward the reform process. The push back against reforms is likely due to a growing unwillingness to endure personal and economic hardship that may take place during the process of transition.
  • The number of people willing to sacrifice for reforms has fallen as well. Specifically, those willing to endure a decline in living standards for reform has continued to fall in the last three years. In 2015, it was 27%, but now, in 2018, it sits at 19%. In addition, around half of the population believe they have endured enough in the decline for the sake of reforms. And only a small portion of the population (9%) are willing to contribute to the reform process.
  • For citizens who are pro-reform, many believe anticorruption/court reform it is the most crucial and should be adopted as soon as possible (first-choice for 29% of respondents).
  • According to the poll, support for political parties in Ukraine is spread widely and no party possesses a monopoly of political opinion. Yulia Tymoshenko’s All-Ukraine Union (“Batkivshchina”) Party captured 8% of support, the Opposition Bloc 5%, the Party for Life 5%, and the Party of Samopomich received 4 %. All other parties listed in the poll received 3% or less. Widespread distrust of political parties not only erodes the legitimacy and effectives of the system, but it also creates space for non-parliamentary to influence politics, particularly at the local level.
  • Citizens are growing pessimistic about the reforms and show very little support for current political parties. There is widespread distrust and general fatigue with political leadership, political parties, and the reform process. 81% of the population believes that those in power do not care about citizens at all. To remain attractive, CSOs should avoid associating their activities with the current political system. Emphasize the role of civil society as something “pre-political”, associating it with elements of charity and volunteering.

Civic literacy is still low but interest and knowledge is increasing

  • Comparison between the two survey suggests that knowledge of opportunities for civic activism has increased in a short timeframe. In just a few months, awareness, across all initiatives, improved since September of 2017. Knowledge of submitting formal information requests to state bodies increased 11% (25% to 36%); Knowledge of reporting broken roads and other infrastructure issues to local administrations rose 14% (32% to 46%); And awareness about open reports on corruption in the media jumped from 26% to 32%.
  • Citizens are most knowledgeable about reporting broken roads or other infrastructure issues to local administrations, participation in peaceful assemblies, and creating a housing/street/block committee. The activities where people are the least educated are participating in a formal advisory body, engaging in legislation review, and anonymously reporting corruption.
  • Furthermore, most poll participants know of active charity funds (61%) and volunteer groups (58%). These numbers have increased dramatically since 2014, when only 32% of citizens knew about charity funds and 42% were aware of volunteer organizations. The groups have started to win respect and importantly – trust – in society.

Citizens have high standards for those in public office but low expectations

  • The poll data suggests that concern with corruption is prevalent among the public. In both waves of the survey, one in two participants cited fighting corruption as one of the 3 most critical issues facing Ukraine today (the other two were economics and the crisis in Donbas). Citizens not only believe that fighting corruption is important, but they also believe that it is the main obstacle that prevents the successful passage of reforms. Specifically, about half of the population (46%) believes that the greatest obstacle for reforms is corrupted MPs; oligarchs are placed third (37%), and the corruption of civil servants is believed to be a genuine issue by 33% of the population.
  • Citizens are not only aware of corruption and its destructive nature, but they also hold high standards for those in public office. In both waves of the survey, 73% of citizens believe that giving bribes, unofficial services, or gifts for solving a problem cannot be justified anytime or in most cases. Similarly, to the Sept’17 survey, 83% of the population agrees that the corrupt officials should be removed from the office.
  • Perceptions of the electoral system in the Verkhovna Rada remains mixed. About one in four citizens support a proportional system with open lists while another 20% support a majoritarian system. However, a significant 37% of the population are unsure of which election system they would support. The high rates of uncertainty likely reflect the low level of civic literacy and political disinterest.
  • A sizable portion of the population however, remains apathetic towards the election and dissatisfied with the national government. About one in four Ukrainian citizens remain unsure of who they will be voting for in the coming election. Furthermore, 14% said they would not vote while 16% said that they were against all political parties. This suggests prominent levels of dissatisfaction, uncertainty, and ambivalence towards the current regime and the political system itself. In this regard, the political climate is ripe for populism or non-established political forces to emerge in the coming year.

Target Groups for Engagement

  • Those with higher incomes, more education, and those who live in moral urban settings, are more likely to engage in civic initiatives. Specifically, these findings confirm the hypothesis that individuals with more education have a more critical attitude towards non-democratic rule. Second, citizens with more disposable income are more likely to feel secure enough to challenge the status quo. Third, because people with more income are more likely to be in formal sector jobs that are independent of state control, they are better placed to challenge the abuse of power.
  • Higher rates of activism are also correlated with older age. There are significantly more people aged 25-44 among current activists comparing to non-activists (39% vs. 28%, respectively). The least active portion of the population are those between the ages of 18-24.
  • In terms of geography, there are more residents in the Southern and Eastern regions of Ukraine who have engaged in one or more activities; while residents of Western region are overrepresented among those who are merely interested in getting involved.
  • Although Internet penetration remains relatively low in Ukraine, 50% of Ukrainians have an account on a social networking site. The most popular social networking site is Facebook (39% of the population), followed by Vkontakte (13%), Odnaklassniki (11%), and Instagram (10%). According to the poll, the primary use for social networking sites is personal communication (58%). Yet social media is multipurpose, and a large share of individuals (81%) use it for personal communication, for fun/recreation (47%), and for news (39%).

This press release is made possible by the generous support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). The contents of this press release are the sole responsibility of Pact and do not necessary reflect the views of USAID or the United States Government. 

The purpose of USAID/ENGAGE is to increase citizen awareness of and engagement in civic activities at the national, regional, and local levels.