Russia’s most respected pollster, Levada, has published an update on Russian attitudes towards Vladimir Putin. The results are confusing, to say the least.
When asked ОДОБРЯЕТЕ ЛИ ВЫ ДЕЯТЕЛЬНОСТЬ В.В.ПУТИНА НА ПОСТУ ПРЕЗИДЕНТА РОССИИ? (“Do you approve of Putin’s performance as president?”) in August of 2008 just as Putin’s second term in office came to a close, a whopping 82% of respondents said they strongly or mostly approved and only 12% said they strongly or mostly disapproved. Five years later in August 2013, only 60% of respondents now approve of Putin’s performance as president while 32% strongly or mostly disapprove. The gap between Putin’s defenders and his critics shrank from a gigantic 70 points to a much less daunting 28 points. Putin’s adherents would point out, however, that Putin’s approval is still overwhelming and decisive, and much higher for example than that currently experienced by Barack Obama.
But if you drill down into the Levada results, you find data that should be far more disturbing to Putin’s fans.
When asked ЕСЛИ ГОВОРИТЬ В ЦЕЛОМ, У ВАС СЛОЖИЛОСЬ В ОСНОВНОМ БЛАГОПРИЯТНОЕ ИЛИ В ОСНОВНОМ НЕБЛАГОПРИЯТНОЕ МНЕНИЕ О ВЛАДИМИРЕ ПУТИНЕ? (“Generally speaking, is your attitude towards Putin mostly favorable or mostly unfavorable?”), Putin took a massive, earth-shaking hit. In August 2008 the same 80% that approved of Putin’s performance stated they had a generally favorable view of Putin the man. Back then, only 10% of respondents said they had a generally unfavorable view. Five years later, the story is dramatically different. For the first time since he came to power, Putin didn’t even get a majority of Russians to confirm a generally positive view. Only 47% of respondents said so, while 27% said their view was mostly negative. Over the past five years, Putin’s negatives nearly tripled.
The comes the real poser. When asked ЕСЛИ ГОВОРИТЬ О ДЕЙСТВИЯХ ВЛАДИМИРА ПУТИНА НА ПОСТУ ПРЕЗИДЕНТА РОССИИ, ВЫ В ОСНОВНОМ ПОДДЕРЖИВАЕТЕ? (“Do you support the actions taken by Putin as President?”), Putin takes the same massive hit. Only 44% of respondents say they do support Putin’s actions, down from 77% in 2008, while 28% say they do not support Putin’s actions, up from 10% in 2008. This question is actually very hard to distinguish from the first one regarding Putin’s job performance, and shows that Pooty is on very shaky ground indeed.
So while Russians feel that Putin is getting good results as president, they increasingly don’t like the man behind the actions. They like the ends, but disapprove of the means. And the share of Russians who like the ends is dramatically plummeting the longer Putin stays in power.
These results are hardly surprising. Russia has experienced six straight years and six straight quarters of declining economic growth, and now stands poised on the precipice of a doubled-dip recession. Levada’s poll clearly shows that Russians believe Putin controls the national destiny and is responsible for any mishap, just as he gets all the credit for success. Putin neatly stepped aside and put Dima Medvedev in place to take the blame for the massive 2009 recession that Russian experienced, but now that Putin once again holds the reins a double-dip recession will hit him hard.
Levada reveals that a majority of Russians definitely or probably believe that Putin is guilty of the abuse-of-power allegations that his critics make against him. As the economy continues to decline, Putin will have to use more and more authoritarian measures to preserve his power. We see these measures manifested in Putin’s treatment of Greenpeace, homosexuals, Pussy Riot , Navalny and any other group or person that dares to challenge the status quo.
Welcome back to the USSR.