Levada Polls Show Putin’s Opponents in Minority, but Approval of Duma Slips Ahead of Elections

Russian State Duma Building file photo

(Russia Matters – russiamatters.org – RM Staff – Feb. 26, 2021)

Despite a raging pandemic, declining real incomes, rising poverty and the so-called non-systemic opposition’s discontent with the prosecution of Alexei Navalny, the share of Russians who view their country as headed in the right direction and who had a positive view of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s performance continued to exceed the share of those who held the opposite view on these issues so far this year, according to the Levada Center’s latest batch of polling results. At the same time, the Russian president, whom 41 percent of respondents do not want to see stay on in his current role beyond 2024, had to contend with a decline in the approval of his cabinet’s work and the lower chamber of the Russian parliament, which is dominated by his loyalists, ahead of parliamentary elections this fall.

The share of Russians who think their country is headed in the right direction has held steady at 49 percent this year, while the share of those who hold the opposite view has increased from 40 percent in January 2021 to 43 percent in February, according to Russia’s most prominent independent pollster. The largest share of Russians who believed that Russia was headed in the wrong direction, 82 percent, occurred in August 1999 as separatist violence flared again in the North Caucasus. The share of Russians who thought their country was headed in the right direction was highest in December 2007, August 2014 and June 2015 (64 percent), according to Levada.

Putin’s approval rating has held steady this year, increasing from 64 percent in January to 65 percent in February, as did the share of Russians who disapproved of his work (34 percent in both January and February), according to Levada. Putin’s approval peaked in June 2015 at 89 percent. It was at its lowest (31 percent) in August 1999, when, as prime minister under an ailing Boris Yeltsin, he had to lead the response to a large-scale incursion of jihadists from Chechnya into Dagestan. The share of Russians who disapproved of his work was highest in January, April and November 2013 (37 percent).

While nearly half of respondents (48 percent) would like to see Putin stay on as president beyond the end of his current term in 2024, a large share, 41 percent, would not. More than half of respondents in the 18 to 24 and 25 to 39 age categories (57 and 51 percent, respectively) do not want to see Putin remain president. For respondents aged 55 and over, however, nearly 60 percent would like to see Putin stay in his current role. Of those who want Putin to remain president, stability and peace were the top two reasons why, while of those who do not want him to stay on, 21 percent said it was because his time was up and 19 percent said because power should change hands. That more than 40 percent of Russians do not want Putin reelected again and think Russia is headed in the wrong direction may also be at least partially explained by falling living standards during recent years of Putin’s rule. Real incomes have been steadily declining for years in Russia. These incomes in 2020 were 10 percent lower than in 2013, while the number of those living in poverty increased by 400,000 last year to total 19.6 million, according to the Russian government’s statistical service.

In spite of these bleak developments, however, levels of confidence in Putin have also increased slightly this year. When asked to name politicians they trusted most, 32 percent of respondents named Putin in February 2021 compared to 29 percent in January 2021. The second most trusted politician so far this year is Putin’s premier, Mikhail Mishustin, with 12 percent, while in third is Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the nominally oppositional Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, with 9 percent. The most well known leader of Russia’s so-called non-systemic opposition, Alexei Navalny, ranked seventh on the list, with the share of Russians who trust him declining from 5 percent in January to 4 percent in February. While considerably higher than their trust in other political figures, Russians’ confidence in Putin this year was substantially lower than the historical high of 59 percent he enjoyed in November 2017. Trust in Putin declined in nine of the 15 polls that took place after November 2017, according to Levada.

In contrast to Putin, his government saw more disapproval than approval of its work so far this year, which can also be in part explained by falling incomes and rising poverty. While 49 percent of respondents approved of the performance of Mikhail Mishustin’s cabinet in January, only 47 percent did so in February. This figure is still lower than the share of those who disapproved, which increased from 49 percent to 50 percent in that period of time. Disapproval of the government’s performance was highest, 71 percent, in June 2005, when it was headed by Mikhail Fradkov. The State Duma’s approval rating is even lower than the government’s so far this year, decreasing from 41 percent in January 2021 to 40 percent in February, with those disapproving accounting for more than half the respondents, 55 and 57 percent, respectively, in the first two months of this year, according to Levada. That cannot be good news for the Putin loyalists who dominate the lower chamber ahead of the September 2021 Duma elections.


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