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We Demand It! Make it Happen. Help!

Examining Population and Power through the Lens of Online Petitions

Over 40% of online petitions started by residents of central Russia get results. In the Far East, this is the case with only 2% of online petitions, while in the regions of the North Caucasus it is even less. Nadezhda Radina and Daria Krupnaya studied the willingness of authorities and businesses to respond to citizens’ digital activism based on data from the Change.org platform. Their research will appear in a forthcoming article in an upcoming issue of the journal, POLIS. Political Studies.

Results Versus Inaction

Traditionally, a petition is a collective appeal, usually to authorities or organizations. An electronic petition is an appeal published online, and they are conducted mostly on specialized sites. The most well-known ones in Russia are:

 Roi.ru (Russian Public Initiative)

Change.org is active in 196 countries and 14 languages. Officials have the right to ignore petitions posted on the site (petition results on the site are not legally binding, insofar as the platform does not collect enough information about the signers). However, a large public response puts pressure on officials and businesses to take action.

‘Nearly every hour, a petition on Change.org achieves victory,’ the site says. Of the 22,452 Russian-language petitions created on the site from 2012 to 2017 that the researchers analyzed, 4% (918) received the status of ‘fulfilled’ (as indicated by the petition’s creator after the collection of signatures).

Topics and Issues

The issues of petitions provide insight into the concerns of a given region. About half (44%) of the 22.4 thousand filed petitions in Russia concern social issues, and the second largest portion (18%) concern political issues.

Breakdown of Russian petition issues by category (%):
Society — 44%
Politics — 18%
Culture — 11%
Animals — 9%
Environment — 6%
Education — 4%
Sports — 3,8%
Medicine — 3%
Economy — 0,7%
Religion — 0,5%

The North-West Federal District is primarily distinguished by its concern for social issues — 51% of petitions started in this region fell into this category. Russia’s most politically active residents can be found in central Russia: 43.8% of petitions from the Central Federal District concern the resignation of officials, changing decisions, amending laws, fighting corruption, and so on. Political issues also dominate petitions created in Siberian (34%) and North Caucasian (23%) districts.

Emulating the Centre

‘With the exception of the strong political bent of petitions started in the Central Federal District, there were no significant differences found between regions of Russia in terms of the kinds of demands being made — people are concerned about similar problems everywhere,’ the study authors note.

With a share of 42%, the Central Federal District had the highest number of petitions that were successful in Russia, while the Far Eastern and the North Caucasian districts had the lowest — 2% and 1%, respectively. 

Federal District Ratings
by percent share of successful petitions in Russia (%)
1. Central — 42%
2. North-West — 14%
3. Privolzhsky — 13%
4. Southern — 12%
5. Siberian — 9%
6. Ural — 7%
7. Far Eastern — 2%
8. North Caucasus — 1%

Petitions concerning society, culture, politics, and animal welfare enjoy the highest success rates. The Central Federal District’s success rate can be explained by the population’s civic activity in urban areas, the greater responsiveness of the petition addressees, more advanced infrastructure (for example, the quality and accessibility of the Internet), and users’ involvement with technology that facilitates active participation.

Examples of successful petitions from the site Change.org
(number of signatures)
‘Social Insurance Fund, stop the torture: give me my wheelchair. It’s the law.’ (209,701)
‘Help!!! The authorities have lifted the ban on shooting the Baikal seals!!!’ (374,326)
‘Provide cancer patients with life-saving medicine! We have the right to life!’ (428,105)
‘Stop discrimination on the basis of appearance and age at PJSC Aeroflot’ (50 223)
‘We demand compensation for the victims of the St. Petersburg metro terrorist attack on 03.04.2017’ (157 649)
‘Novgorod officials must provide housing to WWII veterans, as required by law.’  (191 740)

Regional Values

The response of government bodies and businesses to petitions from non-state platforms provides an indication of the quality of a given region’s management. Successful petitions point to a willingness to enter into dialogue with civil society, and the issues of the petitions provide insight into the values of a given region.

By grouping the successful petitions by issue category, the researchers divided the federal districts into three clusters:

  1. So long as they contribute to the animal rights protections, governmental bodies and businesses are safe to ignore other demands of the population. In the Far Eastern Federal District, 95% of successful petitions were in defense of animal rights.
  2. Governmental bodies and businesses respond only to crucial problems. The Ural, North Caucasian and Siberian federal districts rank highest in social issue victories. According Ronald Inglehart's system of value classification, rational survival values ​​are predominantly shared here, with a certain tendency toward post-materialistic values.
  3. In response to population demands, governmental bodies and businesses are partly willing to address a wide range of current issues. In the Central, Volga, South and North-West federal districts — mostly urban areas with city populations of a million people or more — there is a predominance of post-materialist values ​​(rational values ​​of self-expression). In these regions, petitions on social issues (48.3%), political issues (17%), as well as on cultural issues (12.7%), education (11.3%) and sports (4.5%) were successful.



Study authors:
Nadezhda Radina, Professor, School of Social Sciences, National Research University Higher School of Economics in Nizhny Novgorod
Daria Krupnaya, Public Relations Specialist, OblGazEnergoMontazh LLC (Nizhny Novgorod)
Author: Svetlana Saltanova, May 14, 2019