Data Find Soviets Ambivalent to Perestroika

THE average Soviet citizen is satisfied with his job and home, disatisfied with the political system and chronic shortages, and ambivalent about Mikhail Gorbachev's economic reforms. These are some of the conclusions scholars from the United States are drawing from a flow of survey data about the Soviet Union. These new surveys suggest Mr. Gorbachev's political reforms are meeting with widespread approval but that his economic reforms are running into trouble.

``Almost everyone is going to be ambivalent about perestroika [economic restructuring],'' says James Millar, director of the Soviet Interview Project (SIP) who spoke here recently about the US effort to examine Soviet attitudes and behavior. ``Too many members of the population - whether they know it or not - are on both sides of the issue.''

For example, most Soviet consumers complain that the state-run stores don't carry enough goods and that the private farm markets charge too much, Mr. Millar says. But they don't make a connection between those problems. And they don't believe the Western economic theory that raising prices would increase the supply, and thus end the shortage problem.

Another paradox: Two-thirds of the respondents to the first SIP survey were satisfied with their jobs though they admitted their workplaces were inefficient. The satisfaction, Millar says, stems from the fact that goods are so scarce that producing anything is fulfilling.

SIP data also suggest Gorbachev's political reforms are highly popular because the Communist Party is so unpopular. For example, 65 percent of interviewees said that most or almost all the officials at the National Academy of Sciences and the military were competent. Only 30 percent said local party officials were competent. Even fewer respondents - only 12 percent - said most or almost all local party officials were honest, which is lower than the National Academy of Sciences (35 percent) or even the KGB (20 percent).

The SIP surveys are the largest and oldest of the new Soviet surveys. The first one interviewed 2,800 Soviet emigrants who came to the US between Jan. 1, 1979, and April 30, 1982. SIP II interviewed 600 recent emigrants. Since then US news media and Soviet polls have surveyed Soviet citizens directly and confirmed many of the SIP's findings, Millar says.

We want to hear, did we miss an angle we should have covered? Should we come back to this topic? Or just give us a rating for this story. We want to hear from you.