Ukraine’s 2019 Presidential Elections: Polls Reveal Potential Winners and Losers
21 November, 2018

This March, Ukrainian citizens will be taking to the polls to elect a new president. Although the latest opinion polls conducted by sociological institutions suggest that Yulia Tymoshenko is the one to beat, this could all change before the big day, sociologists say.

According to a survey by Group “Rating,” Kyiv International Institute of Sociology and Razumkov Center from November 2018, out of all the people surveyed who said they would vote in the election and are already decided with their choice, 20.7% would vote for Yulia Tymoshenko, 11.4% for Volodymyr Zelensky, 10.3% for incumbent Petro Poroshenko and 9.9% – Anatoliy Hrytsenko.

We spoke to sociologists Dr. Svitlana Khutka, Research Director with Social Indicators, Dr. Olga Balakireva, Chairman of the Board at the Ukrainian Institute for Social Research after Olexander Yaremenko and Director General of the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology Volodymyr Paniotto to help understand the latest opinion polls.

Perhaps one of the most surprising findings from the current surveys is the success of popular Ukrainian figures comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who has no previous political experience and musician Svyatoslav Vakarchuk, who was an MP for a short time following the 2004 Orange Revolution. No one knows yet whether they will officially be running.

Balakireva believes that the population’s low level of trust in politicians has contributed to the fact that some people are considering Zelensky at this stage.

“They can see very attractive person, a very friendly person, very famous person like celebrities. The people who have [negative] opinions on any politicians would like [these people] to provide [them] with answers,” Balakireva states.

What’s more, countries like the United States already have a tradition of celebrity personalities participating in politics. As Paniotto points out: “Volodymyr Zelenskiy, he's also a showman to some extent and the same [way] Reagan was an actor, and Arnold Schwarzenegger. So it seems to me that it's not that big problem.”

Media presence also has a large role in the increasing popularity of these potential celebrity candidates, according to Khutka. However, “the question is, actually, is it possible to convert this media presence into votes?” Khutka adds.

So far, only Yulia Tymoshenko has outlined a campaign tackling some of the issues facing Ukraine today and the issues voters want answers for, such as the economic situation, the war in Donbas and standing up to Russian aggression.  

In Balakireva’s experience, when asking participants whom they would vote for in relation to some of these issues, “not one candidate received more than 20% – no one,” adding this means “there are no leaders, who can unite Ukraine as a leader, who can solve any kind of problems” (Balakireva probably refers to the overall rating where Tymoshenko scored 12.7% as opposed to the one out of those who would definitely vote and are decided - ed.).

However, Khutka, Balakireva and Paniotto all agree that it’s still early days, and this could all change the closer Ukraine gets to election day. What’s more the official candidate list is yet to be announced.

This may explain why there is still a significant number of people still undecided about who to vote for or would chose not to vote.

“We have a quarter of answers that they don't want to participate in the election, or [haven't] decided yet. This also gives us the explanation that this is very preliminary and we don't know what could happen,” Balakireva states.

According to Paniotto, this could even change current frontrunner Tymoshenko’s chances of election. He states that Tymoshenko’s rating “depends on the number persons who will take part in the election and who have not yet decided.”

Khutka believes that, while such data is useful, when it comes to deciding on how to vote, strategy, experience and the “readiness to be a political leader in difficult times,” are the most important aspects to consider.

/By Sofia Fedeczko