Ukrainians have witnessed major political and cultural upheaval over the past several years, and 2019 has been no different. In two elections, Ukrainians voted decisively for new faces to lead their country’s march toward expanded democracy, rule of law, and Euro-Atlantic integration.
NDI polling has found high levels of optimism throughout Ukraine as the country looks toward the future. At the heart of the country’s optimism is the promise of change made by President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a political newcomer who won a landslide victory in the second round of Ukraine’s presidential election in April 2019. Riding a wave of goodwill, Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party swept the July snap parliamentary elections, becoming the first party in Ukraine’s post-independence history to secure a majority without forming a coalition.
Expectations for the new president and parliament remain sky-high. NDI polling found that 76 percent of those surveyed believe Zelenskyy will make changes that matter to them, while 72 percent believe the parliament will do the same.
“The public is enthusiastic about the opportunities for change and progress under the president and his team,” said Ian Woodward, NDI senior resident director in Ukraine. “This is a chance for more people to get engaged in the process and help the government deliver on reforms.”
The makeup of parliament reflects Ukrainians’ desire for a new generation of politicians. Approximately 80 percent of members of parliament (MPs) have never held office, and the average age of an MP is now only 41. Additionally, women now make up 21 percent of members, up from only 13 percent in the previous convocation, indicating that parties are reacting to growing popular demand for women’s equality in public life, as shown in NDI’s national surveys.
According to NDI polling, Ukrainians remain united in the desire that their country becomes a fully functioning democracy. Additionally, support for joining the EU and NATO remains strong and has grown nationally over the past year in every region of the country, especially in the East and South.
“This is an opportunity to further fulfill the promises of the Revolution of Dignity and consolidate the gains that have been made,” Woodward said. “It is heartening that people are united around the same goals and aspirations. They see the possibility of continued progress in the new parliament and government.”
In less than a year, the ratio of optimists to pessimists has shifted from about an even split to a five-to-one ratio in favor of optimists.
“The shifts in just nine months have been dramatic,” Woodward said. “The post-presidential and post-parliamentary election environment has been defined by overwhelming optimism.”
Zelenskyy and his team have promised a new path forward for Ukraine, pledging to implement long-overdue national reforms and continue Ukraine’s European path. Zelenskyy, who played a Ukrainian president in a popular television comedy, rose to the top of the presidential polls after announcing his candidacy less than a year ago. In the first round of the presidential election, in March 2019, Zelenskyy emerged with the strongest showing in a field of more than 30 candidates. The next month, he won decisively in the second round of the election when he faced incumbent President Petro Poroshenko.
NDI polling also found that Ukrainians in all regions of the country trusted the results of the 2019 elections. In the most recent survey, 86 percent believed the parliamentary elections were “free and fair.”
“It was a hard-fought campaign with lots of ideas,” Woodward said. “People saw well-organized polling stations where they could cast their vote freely. The results also reflected what people expected to see.”
Woodward also noted that the competitive presidential campaign and the willingness of the previous president to accept the results were important factors in Ukrainians’ perceptions of the elections.
According to Tamta Otiashvili, NDI program manager for research and countering disinformation in Ukraine, NDI surveys are key to better understanding Ukrainians’ beliefs and preferences as the government moves quickly to implement its agenda.
“The Ukrainian political context is extremely complex, and so are the attitudes of Ukrainians,” Otiashvili said. “Feeling the pulse of society through regular opinion polls helps NDI assist its partners across the board to design and implement strategies and policies that are informed by these attitudes while responding to the expectations of Ukrainians.
NDI will continue to partner closely with political leaders and Ukrainian citizens to help them realize their aspirations for reform and a stronger democracy.
“We are working with political parties and civil society organizations as they refocus, following a year of change,” Woodward said. “Those efforts are based on Ukrainian public opinion and the data that we collect in our surveys. Our evidence-based research is an important tool that informs our work with parties and civil society organizations, and we look forward to continued progress and partnership.”
NDI conducts two national surveys each year using face-to-face interviews with a nationally representative sample of respondents from the east, west, south and center/north of Ukraine. Those surveyed in the most recent study were asked their opinions on a variety of topics, including their attitudes toward the election process, the newly elected president and parliament, the direction of the country, democracy, and foreign relations. The results of NDI’s next national survey will be available in January.