Cognitive Dissonance in Russia

March 6, 2015 12:30 PM

According to the latest opinion survey in Russia, the share of people who are happy with their life has increased to 52 percent, from 44 percent in December 2014, and from 41 percent in December 2013. The survey results were published at the end of February by the state survey agency VCIOM. This is quite a spectacular finding, suggesting that despite Western sanctions and the recent ruble devaluation, life in Russia is going well.

Except these attitudes are hard to square with some facts.

Fact #1: Between January 2014 and March 2015, the price of food products has increased by 29.3 percent. After the sanctions, prices of fruit have shot up by 45 percent, vegetables by 41 percent, fish by 30 percent, and meat by 28 percent. All this, according to Rosstat, the state statistical agency.

Fact #2: January 2015 saw a 51 percent fall in the number of Russian traveling abroad, relative to January a year earlier. Fewer Russians go skiing in Europe: Russian tourism dropped by 27 percent to Austria, by 52 percent to Finland, and by 43 percent to France. And lest one thinks that most Russian skiers now go to Sochi, it is worth pointing out that the numbers from last summer also show a significant decline in the tourist visits to Thailand, Bulgaria, Spain, Dubai, and other beach destinations.

Fact #3: 115,390 cars were sold in Russia in January 2015, down from 151,000 in January 2014, and 163,000 in January 2013. In other words, about one quarter fewer new cars have been sold so far this year.

I can think of two possible explanations of this apparent cognitive dissonance. First, the majority of Russians like suffering: When times get tough they feel more cheerful. Second, that respondents fear giving truthful answers as the paranoia over the all-present state has increased fast.

Of those, the second explanation has some empirical support. In a different survey by the same agency, only 12 percent of respondents thought their anonymity was truly protected.