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The Silent Majority in Communist and Post-Communist States

Opinion Polling in Eastern and South-Eastern Europe

Klaus Bachmann and Jens Gieseke

This book takes stock of opinion polls in communist and post-communist states, presents specific case studies and answers the question how opinion polls under conditions of censorship and lack of media pluralism differ from those in liberal democratic societies. These polls were mostly used by the ruling establishment to observe shifts in popular opinion and to anticipate protests. They were hardly presented publicly to inform citizens about the prevailing views in their society. Today, these polls often display stories about everyday life, opinion shifts and the legitimacy of state institutions which cannot be derived from other sources.
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Nowadays media consumers in democratic, pluralist societies know opinion polls mainly for two reasons: they forecast elections results and provide post-election analyses, they keep them updated about the most important issues which are currently being discussed in the public sphere. It is hard to imagine why someone would conduct opinion polls in a society in which censorship controls the media, in which elections do not decide about the composition of the government and in which enterprises do not need to advertise their products because they are not exposed to any competition. The People’s Republics which were established in the Soviet zone of influence during the Cold War met these conditions almost perfectly: transition of power was usually negotiated behind the curtains of the Central Committee and the Politbureau, the media were subject to preventive censorship and enterprises did not face much market competition due to central planning and government interference.

Nevertheless, even under such circumstances, opinion polls were carried out, they analyzed, reported, and—in many cases—even shaped political decision-making. Many were kept confidential, some became state secrets and some were, as Hans Erxleben reports in his first-hand account about the Institut für Meinungsforschung (Institute for Opinion Polling, IfM) destroyed together with the institution that had produced them. This, however, was rather the exception than the rule. In almost all countries which belonged to the Warsaw Pact and the COMECON, opinion polls were carried out from time to time for various reasons and often...

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