Many world leaders have seen a surge in their approval ratings during the coronavirus pandemic as fear drives people to rally around their governments. Russian President Vladimir Putin has experienced the opposite trend. Unable to seize the political initiative, Putin’s approval rating fell to historic lows in March and April.
- Weakening support for Putin has been identified both by state-run polling agency Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), and by the independent Levada Center. According to a March VTsIOM poll, 28.3 percent of Russians said they trust Putin (in response to a question “Which politicians do you trust?” that did not offer names) — a new record low. Even during the highly unpopular pension reforms pushed through in 2018, this indicator never went below 30 percent.
- Similarly, a Levada Center poll showed Putin’s approval rating fell from 63 percent in March to 59 percent in April. This indicator has never before dropped below 60 percent — the last time it even neared that level was in 2013, just ahead of the Kremlin’s decision to annex the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
- Sociologists said Putin’s popularity problems were being caused by fears of a looming economic crisis. “People are losing faith that the country’s leadership can do something for them,” said Lev Gudkov, the head of Levada Center.
- The Kremlin is also concerned about Putin’s falling ratings. One of the first acts of censorship by Vedomosti’s new leadership was to try and ban journalists from using polls conducted by the Levada Center. Editor-in-chief Andrei Shmarov told employees that this instruction had come straight from the Kremlin.
Why the world should care For the first time in 20 years, Putin is facing an economic downturn and falling approval ratings. More anti-crisis spending by the Russian government could help rectify the situation, but this looks unlikely to happen: the Kremlin wants to save money for the post-2021 period when it will have to boost Putin’s rating ahead of the 2024 presidential election.