Since his ascension to power in 2000, Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has maintained levels of approval among the Russian public that would be the envy of most world leaders. Prior to the recent invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s approval rating stood at 71%, according to an independent pollster. Contrary to widespread belief, research has found that this support is not a fiction or an artefact of massaged polling numbers.
As Russia continues its assault on Ukraine, a look at the public perception of Putin over the years may help us to understand how Russians will react to this violent war – and where the fate of this leader’s popularity lies.
In my ongoing research, I investigate what drives public approval of authoritarian leaders, including Putin. I and other scholars have found that economic performance is a constant underlying Russians’ support for Putin over the last 20 years. Following Russia’s economic collapse in the 1990s after the fall of the Soviet Union, Putin has relied on economic recovery and stability to underpin his popularity.
Today, practical factors like financial wellbeing and inflation rates generally dominate many Russians’ perceptions of their government. This is the case even during times of patriotic fervour, such as the massive surge in Putin’s approval observed after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
As much of the western world now imposes crippling economic sanctions on Russia, these basic demands for a full refrigerator and stable income are unlikely to be washed away by any wave of pro-war sentiment.
It should be said that Putin is also popular because of who he is and what he represents – firm leadership. His personal appeal – conspicuous masculinity and man-of-the-people demeanour – and his role in bringing Russia back onto the main stage of global affairs only bolster his attractiveness.
#putin #russia #ukraine
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