Levada Center polling data (Russian-language link) shows that for quite some time now Russians have been deeply ambivalent about their country’s future.
According to Levada, Russia’s most respected polling agency, more Russians have felt the country was on the “wrong track” than the right one in seven of the past 26 months, or roughly 25% of the time — this includes the most recent polled month, February 2013, where 42% of Russians felt the county was on the wrong track compared to 41% who believed it was on the right one. A fact that ought to disturb the Putin regime is that three of those seven months occurred in the past half year. Only once in the past 26 months did more than half of the respondents believe Russia was on the right track. In other words, even when Russians think the country is on the right track, they’re not too sure of it (it’s worth mentioning that a consistent fifth of the Russian population has no idea what track the country is on, they’re clueless).
It’s not surprising that Russians think so, given that for instance GDP growth has fallen precipitously in each of the last two years and in each of the last two quarters of the current year, with recession on Russia’s horizon.
But Putin is a Teflon president, and doesn’t receive much blame for Russia’s wrong direction. That one month when a majority of Russians felt the country was on the right track was March 2012, when Putin was reelected to a third term as president in a landslide.
While from January to February 2013 fewer Russians believed the country was on the right track, Putin’s job approval rating rose from 62% in January to 65% last month. Now, it is true that Putin held job approval of 73% back in February 2011, his highest level in the past two years, and that his approval rating has consistently slid since then (if you read Russian, the New Times website has taken a shot at identifying Putin’s disaffected former supporters). But most world leaders would give their eye teeth to have job approval above 60% for 26 consecutive months as Putin has done. Patriarch Kirill, the Russian pope, who calls Putin a “miracle of God,” enjoys the same level of support that Putin does.
If Putin is not responsible for the country’s “wrong direction,” then who is you may ask? Instead of Putin, Russians appear to blame “the administration” for the country’s wrong direction. Approval of “the administration” has been consistently below 50% for the past 26 months, and fell from 47% in January 2013 to 45% in February. While approval of “prime minister” Dmitri Medvedev, who oversees the administration, is well above that level, it is consistently ten points below that of Putin, indicating Russians feel he bears some responsibility as well.
Russians also blame their parliament, even more so than their administration, for the country’s wrong direction. In January and February 2013, support for the Duma was a consistent and woeful 36%, down from 39% in May 2012.
The other part of the explanation for Putin’s high popularity is that in addition to hating their administration and their parliament, Russians also hate all other political leaders. When asked what leaders they trust most, twice as many Russians picked Putin than any other leader, with Medvedev second and Sergei Shoigu a distant third. However, fully a fifth of Russians believe that Russian has no trustworthy leaders whatsoever.
This contempt for all but Putin is also shown in Levada’s question about whether Russians would vote for Putin if a presidential election were held today. In the latest survey, a mere 32% of Russian voters said they would cast a vote for Putin if the election were held today — half the number that say they approve of Putin’s work as national leader. But this mostly reflects the fact that huge numbers of Russians won’t take the time to go to the polls and vote, which a quarter of the respondents stated was the case. What matters is that not one possible rival to Putin in such an election attracted the support of as much as 10% of the electorate, leaving Putin with more than three times as many votes as his nearest competitor, Gennady Zyuganov.
The attitude of Russians towards Putin is, of course, totally ignorant and irrational. Russia’s administration and parliament do nothing but carry out the orders of Putin, and execute his policies. Putin has near absolute power over both of them. Yet Russians don’t feel he bears any blame for their missteps. Apparently, Russians feel that the administration and parliament, both of which bodies consist of people essentially appointed by Putin and subject to his authority, cannot be governed by anyone, not even a “miracle of God” like Putin. And they feel there is nobody better for Putin to find in Russia, in other words that he presides over a nation of hopeless apes — save for himself, of course. Therefore, Putin is just as much a victim of their actions as they are.
One can only feel dread when contemplating what will happen to this nation of hopeless apes when the Miracle of God goes to meet his maker.