A new poll out this week from the International Republican Institute (IRI) painted a dark picture of Ukraine’s presidential race ahead of the vote on March 31, but concludes that opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko will win in all scenarios. A second poll by the Ratings Group puts comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy in the lead to win the first round vote just ahead of Tymoshenko.
Zelenskiy is an independent and appeals to the many Ukrainians that have been disappointed by the administration of the incumbent President Petro Poroshenko to fulfil the promises of the Euromaidan protests in 2014.
Poroshenko also formally registered as a candidate for the race this week but has reportedly confused voters with his slogan: “Either Poroshenko or Putin,” referring to the president of Russia.
An obvious reference to the military struggle in the Donbas region, nevertheless Ukraine’s social media was quick to ridicule the message.
"Does Putin know that he has an election in March?" Kyiv-based journalist Elena Bondarenko joked on social media, sharing a mock Poroshenko-Putin ballot paper. The slogan seems to have backfired and this is not the first time Poroshenko’s election team seemed to have misjudged the mood of the people.
On the other hand if the results from Ratings Group, are to be believed then Zelenskiy has pulled off a remarkable comeback, as a recent exposé showed that he continues to profit from companies and royalty deals he has in Russia – deals he claimed that he gave up after Russia annexed the Crimea in 2014. The smear seems to have largely unaffected his popularity.
The poll by the Rating Group released on January 31 put Zelenskiy slightly ahead with 19% of the vote, and Tymoshenko, who leads most other polls by at least a 10 point margin, in second place with 18.2%. The Rating Group poll puts Poroshenko in third place with 15.1%.
Political polls in Ukraine are notoriously unreliable and analysts at Concorde Capital have warned observers to distrust any results from any poll other than the big three: Kucheriv Fund/Razumkov centre, the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology (KIIS) and the IRI. Part of the problem with the polls is that the less scrupulous candidates commission polls with fake results to confuse the voters and boost their own image.
The Rating Group poll suggests that Ukrainian voters are almost voting against their will in the upcoming election, unimpressed by any of the candidates.
A second poll from the respected International Republican Institute (IRI), backed by the US government, confirmed previous polls putting Tymoshenko in the lead, albeit with a slightly narrower lead than earlier, with the support of 16% of those that that said they would definitely vote in the election. Poroshenko is now in second place with 11% as Zelenskiy falls to equal second also with 11%. Head of the Opposition Bloc and pro-Russian candidate Yuriy Boyko (aka Boiko) takes fourth with 9%.
Pundits have predicted from the start that the elections will go to a second round as none of the candidates has any realistic chance of winning the necessary 50%-plus in the first round to be a clear victor. It has also been widely assumed that Tymoshenko will meet Poroshenko in the runoff.
The IRI poll found that in all scenarios Tymoshenko will win in a runoff against any of the other leading candidates. What is unsettling is that the “won’t vote” in all cases is far larger than the share of the vote any of the candidates garner.
In the most likely scenario, Tymoshenko would easily beat Poroshenko 26% to 13%, however, the polls predict that Tymoshenko would defeat Zelenskiy by only one percentage point if they met in a second round. If Zelenskiy met Poroshenko in a second round he would handsomely defeat him 29% to 14%.
Indeed, Poroshenko is so unpopular that he would fail to defeat any of the leading candidates in a run off; at best he would tie against Boyko in a run off, according to IRI.
On the basis of the IRI poll the most interesting race will be a second round between Tymoshenko and Zelenskiy, but the most likely second round race, slated for April, is between Tymoshenko and Poroshenko that will end in Tymoshenko becoming president.
As for the issues that voters are most concerned about, the war in Donbas against Russian-backed separatists is the clear leader, with 39% of respondents naming it as their top priority.
The fight against corruption was the most popular second choice and the problems with the economy also rated highly.
Surprisingly, the Russian occupation of Crimea ranks at the bottom of the list with only 2% of respondents naming it as a top priority. While the Crimea has become a cause celebre, average Ukrainians largely regard it as Russian and its annexation as a non-issue.
After the presidential elections are over Ukraine will quickly go back into electioneering mode as the country is also holding parliamentary elections in October and many of the candidates running for president are only doing so to boost the profile of their parties ahead of the parliamentary vote.
Tymoshenko’s Fatherland party continues to comfortably lead the polls with 17% of the vote amongst those that say they will definitely vote.