The overwhelming majority of people in the Soviet Union are unhappy about consumer goods, services, health care and life in general, The Los Angeles Times Poll found. In fact, half believe the odds are high for "a public revolt against the government."
Nearly half the Soviet people say they are worse off now than a year ago and a like proportion pessimistically predict that they will be even worse off one year from now.
These and other poll findings help illustrate in graphic numbers the internal problems of declining public confidence that Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev faces at home as he meets this week with President Bush in Washington.
Although Soviet citizens apparently think highly of their leader--seven in 10 say they approve of the way he is handling his job--some of his policies, including perestroika , are a lot less popular.
And half the people say their opinions even of Gorbachev have fallen in the last year. Conversely, four in 10 Americans, who were interviewed at about the same time by The Times Poll, now have a better impression of the Soviet leader than they did a year ago.
Actually, people in the Soviet Union seem to be of two minds about Gorbachev's reform attempts. On the one hand, most are upset with what they consider to be a deteriorating standard of living, including food shortages, rising unemployment and increasing crime. On the other hand, many are willing to gamble on some democracy and moves toward a "regulated market economy," as it officially is called, while enduring even more hardship--if the ultimate result might be a better life.
Questions for the two-nation survey were written and the responses calculated and analyzed by The Times Poll, directed by I.A. Lewis.
In the European part of the Soviet Union--west of the Urals--the Soviet Academy of Sciences conducted the interviews face-to-face with 1,485 citizens May 9-24. Those surveyed were randomly selected from the complete list of people holding internal "passports," which all Soviet citizens age 16 and older are required to possess.
In the United States, The Times Poll interviewed 2,144 American adults by telephone from May 10-14. The phone numbers were randomly selected by computer.
The margin of error for the findings in each country is three percentage points in each direction.
The University of Houston cooperated in the project.
Pollster Lewis said he was impressed with the interviews in the Soviet Union, where glasnost --or openness--is a relatively recent experience for people.
"One of the remarkable things about this study," Lewis said, "is the very low (interview) refusal rate we encountered--far lower than what we find in the United States. My guess is that polling is still a new experience in the Soviet Union and most people are happy to cooperate.
"As to whether most replies are truthful, that is almost impossible to determine. In reply to one of our questions, respondents did tell us they thought some people might be 'careful' about their answers. But I have spent some time examining the data and I can say it is clean and consistent with facts that we can verify. And to me the Soviet responses seem truthful."
In the Soviet Union, half the people surveyed estimated that there is a "fairly high chance of a public revolt against the government of the Soviet Union." Only about a quarter figured the odds of a revolt are "low." And these people were talking to interviewers before last week's panic buying spree that was set off by the government's announcement that it intends to sharply raise consumer prices as part of the move toward a market economy.
A startling majority of Soviet citizens--62%--said they are "dissatisfied" with their "life as a whole." By contrast, 92% of Americans said they are "satisfied" with their lot.
On specific issues, the Soviet dissatisfaction rate climbs even higher.
Nine in 10 Soviet citizens said they are "dissatisfied" with "the availability of quality consumer goods." And a like number consider the shortages of food, "vital necessities" and non-perishable items to be important problems.
Roughly eight in 10 Soviet citizens are dissatisfied with consumer services, health care and crime protection.
Practically everybody--95%--expressed worry about inflation. Seven in 10 said the economy is "bad." Just 1% said it is "good." And of those who think it is bad, two-thirds believe the nation is mired in "a major depression." By contrast, two-thirds of Americans said the U.S. economy is "somewhere in between" good and bad.
How optimistic are the Soviets? Six in 10 think it will be at least five years before there is "real improvement in economic conditions"--and three-fourths of these people believe it will be longer than that.
Still, by 2 to 1, Soviet citizens said they are willing for their nation to undertake an "experiment" in "radical economic reform" that could "be painful" with "a period of unemployment and inflation" if this might result ultimately in "plentiful consumer goods of high quality and economic prosperity."
But asked specifically about "the economic reforms of perestroika ," the jury is still out for 43% of those interviewed. Among the rest, twice as many support it as don't. Regardless of whether they support it or not, however, nine in 10 see "major difficulties" with Gorbachev's economic restructuring plan .
Indeed, there is not much optimism among Soviet citizens that "Gorbachev and his reform programs will survive." Only three in 10 predicted survival of both the leader and his reforms. Two in 10 said "he will be forced to cut back on his programs in order to stay in power." One in 10 thought "he will eventually be replaced." The rest weren't sure.
Most people said they are willing to take a chance on democracy. By 2 to 1, they reported favoring "a democratic government even if that may lead to a certain amount of insecurity and disruption"--rather than "strict government control . . . that may lead to a certain amount of regimentation and loss of individual expression."
But while many Soviet citizens say they favor a democratic government, they also seem to be clinging to socialism. Three-fourths agreed, "the government is responsible for the well-being of all its citizens and it has an obligation to help people when they are in trouble." Only one in five agreed that, "people are responsible for their own well-being and have an obligation to take care of themselves when they are in trouble."
The popularity of Gorbachev--if not necessarily his programs--was illustrated when people said, by 3 to 2, that they "strongly identify" their own political views with the Soviet leader. By contrast, they were evenly divided over identifying politically with Gorbachev's best-known critic, the maverick Boris N. Yeltsin, who on Tuesday was selected president of the Russian Republic.
Both Gorbachev and Bush elicit favorable impressions from two-thirds of the Soviet people, according to the interviews. Americans have a slightly higher impression of Bush than they do Gorbachev, but both men are highly regarded.
The citizens of each nation also regard each other highly. In the Soviet Union, 86% have a favorable impression of Americans. In the United States, 74% hold a favorable impression of the Soviets.
Americans may like the Soviet people, but they still don't like Communists. In fact, seven in 10 said they "dislike" Communists. And the Soviet people aren't so sure about Communists themselves. More like them than dislike them, but basically they are split all over the lot on the subject.
Finally, the surveys illustrated that despite all their differences of lifestyle and ideology, the two superpowers share some similar problems. The vast majority of people in each country said they consider environmental pollution, transportation, alcoholism, drugs and "the threat of AIDS" to be "important problems."
COMPARING U.S. & SOVIET LIFE We asked people in the Soviet Union and the U.S. about their satisfaction with different parts of their life. AVAILABILITY OF QUALITY CONSUMER GOODS Satisfied U.S.S.R: 10% U.S.: 90% Dissatisfied U.S.S.R: 90% U.S.: 9% QUALITY OF SERVICE TO THE CONSUMER Satisfied U.S.S.R: 14% U.S.: 80% Dissatisfied U.S.S.R: 85% U.S.: 19% QUALITY OF HEALTH CARE Satisfied U.S.S.R: 23% U.S.: 65% Dissatisfied U.S.S.R: 76% U.S.: 33% OVERALL SATISFACTION WITH LIFE Satisfied U.S.S.R: 35% U.S.: 92% Dissatisfied U.S.S.R: 62% U.S.: 8% PEOPLE'S IMPRESSION OF EACH OTHER Favorable U.S.S.R: 86% U.S.: 74% Unfavorable U.S.S.R: 1% U.S.: 6% FAMILY FINANCES THESE DAYS Somewhat better than last year U.S.S.R: 13% U.S.: 35% No change from last year U.S.S.R: 39% U.S.: 51% Somewhat worse than last year U.S.S.R: 46% U.S.: 13% DESCRIBE THE ECONOMY TODAY Good U.S.S.R: 1% U.S.: 12% In-between U.S.S.R: 23% U.S.: 66% Bad U.S.S.R: 72% U.S.: 19% Source: Los Angeles Times Poll