[lg policy] For Ukrainian voters, key is policy preferences, not native language or ethnicity, of candidates

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Thu Aug 28 14:36:09 UTC 2014

For Ukrainian voters, key is policy preferences, not native language or
ethnicity, of candidates
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    By Timothy Frye August 27 at 11:13 AM
 [image: A woman casts her ballot at a polling station during presidential
and mayoral elections in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, May, 25, 2014. (AP Photo /
Evgeniy Maloletka)]
A woman cast her ballot at a polling station during presidential and
mayoral elections in Kiev, Ukraine, on May, 25. (AP Photo / Evgeniy

*Joshua Tucker: The following is a guest post from Columbia University
political scientist Timothy Fyre <http://www.columbia.edu/%7Etmf2/>.*


President Petro Poroshenko recently announced that Ukraine will elect
a new Parliament on Oct. 26.  One would expect voters to place a high
priority on a candidate’s ethnicity
and language <http://eep.sagepub.com/content/27/2/280.abstract>. Both have
been enduring themes in Ukrainian politics, and the tragic military
conflict in the east of the country highlights these cleavages.

In a recent paper
<http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2477440>, however, I
found that while a voter’s ethnicity and language influenced a hypothetical
vote choice, a candidate’s language and ethnicity were far less relevant.
Russian and Ukrainian voters were not much moved by learning that a
candidate was Russian or Ukrainian or was a native speaker of Russian or
Ukrainian. Far more important was whether a candidate favored an economic
policy orientation toward Russia or Europe.

These findings are based on a national survey (see the paper for details)
conducted in late June in which I created eight fictional candidates for a
seat in the Ukrainian parliament who varied along three features: 1)
ethnicity as revealed by either a distinctly Russian or Ukrainian name 2)
native language of Russian or Ukrainian and 3) whether they supported
closer economic ties with Russia or with Europe.More specifically,
interviewers asked:

Let’s say that there were elections to the Supreme Rada. A candidate with
the following features took part in the race.  About how willing would you
be to vote for this candidate?  [*Ivan Egorovich Filinov/Boris Bogdanovich
Tkachenko*] is a 40 year-old businessman who speaks [*Russian/Ukrainian*]
as his native language. He is promising to reduce corruption, increase
spending on education, and build tighter economic ties with [*Russia/Europe*

One of the eight versions of the question was then randomly assigned to
each respondent. Caveats up front. This vignette does not capture the
nuances of language use, ethnicity, or policy orientation.  Economic policy
orientation toward Russia and Europe is freighted with deep cultural and
political connotations; ethnicity is more subtle than a name; and native
language does not include the possibility of being bilingual. Yet comparing
how small changes in a candidate’s profile shape vote preferences can help
identify the independent impact of these factors that are often highly

Despite the candidates’ distinctive ethnicities, native languages, and an
ongoing conflict laden with ethnic and linguistic overtones, there is
little difference in the average level support for each of these
candidates. The differences in the average support for 7 of the 8
candidates are statistically indistinguishable from zero. Surprisingly, the
“average” respondent does not appear to be strongly swayed by candidate
language, ethnicity, or policy orientation.

These “average” levels of support mask, however, vast differences in the
preferences of voters of different ethnicities and native languages.
Breaking down the responses according to the language and ethnicity of the
respondents reveals a far different pattern. Table 1 reports the
hypothetical vote preferences of three groups of respondents: ethnic
Russians whose native language is Ukrainian (23 percent of the sample),
ethnic Ukrainians whose native language is Ukrainian (59 percent), and
ethnic Russians whose native language is Russian (16 percent).

For example, consider Candidate 3. Filinov is an ethnic Russian who speaks
Ukrainian and favors closer ties with Russia. Among native
Russophone-Ukrainians, this hypothetical candidate is quite popular and
receives a score of 3.90; among native Ukrainophone-Ukrainians, however,
the score is just 2.28. Among the relatively smaller number of native
Russophone-Russians the score is 3.29.  Looking across all candidates, we
find significant differences in the responses of Ukrainian speakers who are
ethnic Russian and who are ethnic Ukrainian in five of the eight candidates.
 [image: Figure and Data: Timothy Frye, Columbia University.]
Figure and Data: Timothy Frye, Columbia University.

Three candidates (4, 6 and 8) all of whom favored closer economic ties with
Europe drew roughly equal levels of support from all three groups of
respondents. That voters of different ethnicities and language backgrounds
express roughly similar support for these three candidates suggests that
voting in Ukraine has not yet been reduced to an ethnic or linguistic
census despite the ongoing violent conflict in Eastern Ukraine.

Most interesting, among all respondents candidate policy orientation toward
Russia or Europe is a powerful mover of vote choice, even more so than
candidate language or ethnicity.  Neither native Russian speaking nor
native Ukrainian speaking respondents were much moved in their vote choice
by changing the candidate’s language or ethnicity. However, as shown in
Table 2, native Ukrainian speaking respondents were significantly more
likely to support candidates who favored an economic policy orientation
toward Europe. The differences in responses in each of these four paired
comparisons that hold candidate ethnicity and language constant, but vary
policy orientation are statistically significant at the .10 level.

Among Russian speakers, the magnitude of the change in support for these
four candidates is similar, but in the opposite direction as Russian
speakers are far less likely to support a candidate who backs closer
economic ties with Europe.  The importance of policy orientation is even
found among the subset of respondents from the four eastern regions of
Ukraine. Of course, economic policy orientation here should be broadly
conceived as ties to Europe and Russia area loaded with political and
cultural meaning, as well.
 [image: Note: Figure only shows results for native Ukrainian speaking
respondents (Figure and Data: Timothy Frye, Columbia University)]
Note: Figure only shows results for native Ukrainian speaking respondents
(Figure and Data: Timothy Frye, Columbia University)

In sum, native Ukrainian and native Russian speakers have different
preferences over their candidates in many, but not all, cases, suggesting
that voters consider factors other than ethnicity and language in the
ballot box. Most interesting, a candidate’s policy orientation toward
Russia or Europe drives vote choice far more than about a candidate’s
ethnicity or language. That policy orientation, broadly understood, matters
so prominently gives some hope that the parliamentary election in the fall
will not be simply an ethnic or linguistic census.


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