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Uncovering Ukraine's True Colors

The orange and the blue largely agree on where the nation should go.

December 28, 2004|Douglas E. Schoen and Frank I. Luntz

In Ukraine, two colors took on a new significance over the last few months. Supporters of opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko -- now the all-but-official president-elect -- donned orange as the symbol of their pro- democracy campaign. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovich and his team sported blue to signal their support for continuing on the path set by pro-Russia President Leonid Kuchma.

This has led to inevitable comparisons to the United States' own red and blue, Republican and Democratic, divide. Given that political differences in Ukraine run along regional lines, observers see the danger of Ukraine dividing into two or more countries.

Our consulting firms, representing a bipartisan partnership of Democratic and Republican pollsters, conducted a national exit poll during the rerun of the presidential runoff election on Sunday. On behalf of the Kiev-based television station ICTV, we interviewed more than 10,000 Ukrainians as they left polling stations across the country, and by 8 p.m. Kiev time, just as the polls closed, we knew that Yushchenko, the man in orange, had won definitively. Although the results aren't official, the votes that have been counted show a victory margin of nearly 10 points and -- despite posturing on the part of Yanukovich -- Ukraine appears to have succeeded in electing a new president and in running a fair election.

But what about the mix of orange and blue, the divide between Ukraine's western and eastern halves? The polling confirmed that some areas voted almost entirely for one candidate. In Donetsk, an eastern industrial province, more than 90% of voters cast their ballot for Yanukovich. Such results indicate that regional division remains a threat, but there is also reason for optimism.

In addition to our 10,000 exit interviews, we also interviewed 1,200 voters from Ukraine's four major provinces, representing the main regions of the country The provinces demonstrate the country's polarization. Just as Donetsk in the east voted 90% for Yanukovich, the western provinces of Kiev and Lviv voted approximately 90% for Yushchenko; Odessa in the south voted approximately 60% for Yanukovich. Even with nearly half of our sample for these interviews constituting blue voters, 81% overall said all sides should work together for consensus and cooperation to strengthen Ukraine after the vote.

In addition, 67% said they supported Ukraine working to integrate itself into the European Union and into Europe in general. This was one of the key differences between the candidates, with Yushchenko calling for stronger relations with Europe; this result shows there is less division in the country than the conventional wisdom would suggest.

In terms of the economy, there is virtually no disagreement: About 84% said they wanted a market-based economy. And perhaps most important, 93% said Ukraine should chart its own course and pursue its own interests in the world -- not Russian or Western interests, but its own interests.

None of this is to say that uniting the country will be easy. Some blue voters clearly are not ready to lower their colors yet: About 53% of voters in Donetsk said they would support a referendum on secession from Ukraine (only 19% overall wanted such a referendum). These voters fear that their Russian language, their culture and their industrial economy will be put at risk in a new Ukraine.

Yushchenko, who over the last few weeks emphasized a "One Ukraine" theme, will have his work cut out for him in the east. Still, the same data that showed him to be the winner points the way to making "One Ukraine" a reality: Ukrainians are united in their weariness over divisive politics, generally eager for consensus and looking forward to a time when their country is integrated with Europe economically, but independent of both East and West politically. The presidential vote, this time around, sends a clear message: A united and democratic Ukraine is well within Yushchenko's grasp.

Democrat Douglas E. Schoen is a founding partner and principal strategist of Penn, Schoen and Berland. Republican Frank Luntz is president of Luntz Research Cos.

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