Can Putin's Popularity Last?
By Samuel Greene, Graeme B. Robertson
Published: September 2, 2014 (Issue # 1826)
The confusion surrounding so much of Russia's involvement in Crimea and eastern Ukraine as well as the ensuing descent into confrontation with the West gives way to crystalline clarity in only one area: President Vladimir Putin is once again genuinely popular in Russia.
A survey conducted by the independent Levada Center pollster in August put Putin's current approval rating at 85.5 percent, a number that would cause suspicion in just about any other political context.
Nevertheless, despite questions about how honest Russians are willing to be in expressing their political affinities to pollsters, there is little reason to doubt the shift in public opinion.
Russians have rallied around the flag. It is a common occurrence in countries that find themselves at war or something akin to it, and so it is far from surprising that international conflict should have a galvanizing effect on Russian political sentiment, too.
But a closer look at the data reveals the magnitude of both Putin's achievement and the risks he may soon face.
Since September 2013, the University of North Carolina, in collaboration with the Russia Institute at King's College London, has been studying the evolution of political, economic and social sentiment among those Russians most likely to oppose Putin's rule: educated and at least moderately prosperous city-dwellers.
The key finding from our most recent survey, conducted in July of this year, is the extent to which even these Russians — Putin's toughest audience — have flocked to his side.
While only 48 percent of our sample supported Putin in October 2013, 75 percent did in July 2014.
The proportion who said Russia's leaders made them feel hopeful about the future doubled in the same period, reaching 44 percent, while the number who said they were angry at Russia's leaders halved, to 18 percent.
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