Vladimir Putin's Approval Rating Has Been Holding Steady For Almost Two Years

Posted: Jan 13 2014, 8:21am CST | by , in News

Vladimir Putin's Approval Rating Has Been Holding Steady For Almost Two Years
Photo Credit: Forbes

I’m a little late, but it’s worth pointing out that after a particularly bad November Vladimir Putin’s approval rate in December ticked up to a level (65%) that is broadly in line with the results of the past two years:

Considering how poorly the economy performed in 2013, it’s actually quite surprising that there wasn’t more of a decline in Putin’s numbers. The ever-helpful Dmitry Medvedev appeared to bear the brunt of the public’s ire (his approval declined by almost 10 full points) but Putin was relatively unscathed. I don’t think that dynamic can last forever, bad economic performance will eventually be blamed on Putin, but Russia’s economic problems didn’t immediately turn into political ones. In other words, if you were looking for 2013 to be the year in which Russia’s shambolic economic performance put the final nail in Putin’s coffin you would be disappointed.

You often hear references to the “souring public mood,” Putin’s “constantly worsening poll numbers,” or his “ever-shrinking level of public support.” The general atmosphere conveyed in most reporting from Russia is not merely of a government that is unpopular and incompetent  but one that is increasingly so. Partly this depends upon your point of reference. Compared to the fall of 2008, when the oil boom was peaking and the entire country was basking in the patriotic glow of the victorious war in Georgia, Putin’s current level of support appears decidedly weak. In November of 2008 a Levada poll showed that 86%(!) of the Russian population supported Putin, a ludicrous figure that made some people doubt Levada’s survey methodology and that convinced even more people that opinion polls in Russia were inherently futile. 

But compared to the recent past, Putin’s current level of support appears unexceptional. Ever since the mass protests against the rigged Duma election back in December 2011, there simply hasn’t been any sustained movement in the polls in any direction. Putin’s numbers have knocked about within a narrow range and appear to have leveled off at about 64% approval.

Considering all of the advantages enjoyed by Putin, in particular a relentless stream of positive coverage from the state-controlled television stations, 64% approval hardly equals political omnipotence. You would have to be willfully blind to not see the fact that a sizable chunk of Russian society is deeply disillusioned with the current government and will only be satisfied with radical changes. This group has always existed, but is much larger and more motivated now than it was five or six years ago.

But you would have to be equally blind to not see Putin’s robustness in the polls, or to imagine that there has been some sort of simple, linear decline in his support. A lot of Russians still support Putin. Are they particularly passionate or enthuastic about that support? No, not really. But a majority of Russian society appears (for now!) to be satisfied with the status quo. That matters.  

Things, of course, can change. There is no iron law of nature that locks Putin’s poll numbers at 64% and nothing prevents them from slipping in the coming months. All things being equal, if someone forced me to make a bet I would guess that Putin’s approval rate in December 2014 will be marginally lower than it was in December 2013. But I’d have said the exact same thing last year and I would have been wrong.

I’m not wedded to any particular narrative. All I am suggesting is that, considering the stability of Putin’s approval over the past two years, we should be cautious in making any sweeping or dramatic pronouncements about his political fate.

Follow me on Twitter @MarkAdomanis or on Facebook

Source: Forbes

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