This year discussion was devoted to the following problems: transformations of the sociologist profession in the information society, online surveys, the impact of sociologist’s civic position on his/her work, challenges to election forecasting, specifics of work with Big Data, interactions with the adjacent professions in marketing, IT, design and other industries.
The conference was organized by VCIOM and Financial University under the Government of the Russian Federation with support of the general sponsor Global Socium Consulting (GSC) and official sponsors Online Market Intelligence and SimpleForms.
Claire Durand, WAPOR’s President, delivered her speech at the “Axe porridge: combining methods to improve accuracy” section devoted to the accuracy and future of electoral forecasting. She described the specifics of Russian electoral studies based on the 2018 Presidential Election case study. According to C. Durand, Russia’s case is distinctive in measuring trust in public institutions, as trust in public institutions cannot be integrated with the same scale which is used to measure levels of trust in president. As a rule, the Russian leader is more trustworthy than, for example, the Russian government, whereas in the Western countries the level of trust in the national leader is the same as the trust in public institutions.
The section titled “Forecast based on surveys: a well-functioning method or a guess work?” was focused on the future of electoral forecasting. According to Alexey Churikov, Director of Technologies at Public Opinion Foundation, electoral forecasts based on modern methods work well in a stable political situation, however today we observe considerable changes: after the presidential election the LDPR and KPRF’s electorates will change, and as new candidates emerge, electorate will keep migrating. “We consider that the current forecasting model will not function anymore”, he said. Yulia Baskakova, Head of VCIOM’s Monitoring and Forecasting Department, objected saying that Russian forecasts are at the highest ranking in the world with respect to accuracy. The US pollsters do not even try to forecast the turnout, whereas in Russia this is one of the key factors affecting the final outcome. In contrast to American counterparts who were focused on predicting which candidate would win, Trump or Clinton, Russian pollsters had to determine the outcome for each candidate; this is the reason why large samples (3,000 respondents and more) are more appropriate for Russia than for the USA where 1,500 respondents would be sufficient. Sections devoted to combined techniques and forecasting are key in VCIOM’s scientific policy.
Social role of sociologists which evolves as generations of professionals change each other was discussed at the section “Sociologist for the society and the self”. According to Alexander Demidov, Head of GFK-Rus, reliability of sociological data cannot be doubted, however, the data interpretation can always be questioned: can a sociologist who is part of the same society, not outside of it, avoid being influenced by ideology and politics in data interpretation? Obviously, he/she cannot. However, one of the main tasks is not to allow an expert to turn into a propagandist.
Larisa Pautova, Managing Director of Public Opinion Foundation, told about the use of Big Data in the “Zdrav.FOM” project. She addressed the topic at the section “Communicative research: researcher’s competence”. Ksenia Brodskaya, Head of Google Russia Analytical Department, shared the achievements of the “ThinkWithGoogle” project.
The benefits and drawbacks of online surveys were discussed at two sections devoted to the development of online research. At the section “Online surveys: a civilizational conflict or a new paradigm of social physics” headed by Kirill Roodin, Head of Social Policy and Communication Technologies Practice at VCIOM, the chief expert on practice Natalia Daudrikh explained that online respondents feel more comfortable telling about domestic violence, their diseases and economic difficulties among sensitive topics. However, there is an issue respondents are not eager to discuss either online, nor via the phone, nor face to face; this issue is corruption. On average, when it comes to the so called “socially desirable questions”, online surveys are 10% more reliable than telephone-based surveys. More than 200 participants attended another section related to online focus groups headed by Maria Makusheva, Leading Analyst of Social Policy and Communication Technologies Practice.
Association of Regional Sociological Centers “Group 7/89” organized a meeting for the CIS colleagues to address opportunities and perspectives of international cooperation. The section “North Eurasia as a social space: sociological dimension of diversity and integration” discussed the results of international studies in the post-Soviet space; the section was organized by Igor Zadorin, Managing Director of “Eurasian Monitor” International Research Agency, and Igor Seleznev, Lead Researcher at the Institute of Socio-Political Research of the RAS.
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