Henry Kirby in London -
25 years after Ronald Reagan left the White House, it would seem that Russia has its own ‘Teflon President’ in Vladimir Putin. The Russian president’s consistently high ratings show that his and Reagan’s similarities go beyond a Hollywood penchant for horse riding and rifle-toting, to an ability to come out of any crisis smelling of roses.
A recent World Bank report has predicted that the next two years will be difficult for most Russians, with the economy suffering on several fronts that could directly hit the pockets of the population.
Entitled “Dawn of a New Economic Era”, the study forecasts increases in unemployment, inflation and in Russia’s poverty rate – three key indicators that had previously been considered hallmarks of Russian prosperity under Putin's rule and also make up bne IntelliNews’ Despair Index when combined. The Despair Index measures the relative prosperity of different countries by combining inflation, unemployment and poverty, and is a valuable way of comparing the quality of life across the globe.
Despite the grim outlook, Putin’s approval ratings are better than they have been in the last three years, and have actually improved throughout the triple blow of low oil prices, a tanking ruble and the continued military conflict in eastern Ukraine.
A look at the first bne:Chart shows that the Despair Index has generally been representative of Putin’s approval rating for the last few years. Bearing in mind that Russia’s Despair score has consistently bettered the EU and US scores since 2012, the correlation between the Despair Index and Putin’s support is understandable.
Since then, however, Russia’s Despair Index score has rocketed, while Putin’s popularity has paradoxically also increased.
Even a projected respite in 2016 that will see Russia's score fall from 37.7 to 29.0 will still leave it languishing behind the EU and US, if their respective 2014 scores are indicative of things to come.
So why are Putin’s ratings so consistently positive? The easy answer is that Russia’s low Despair Index score was Putin’s gift to the country, and with the acquiescence of the Russian people Putin has since been mostly left to his own devices.
Logic, then, would dictate that a high Despair score would be seen by Russians as Putin breaking his side of the deal. With that, surely, would come political trouble for the president.
The second bne:Chart, which compares the Despair Index scores of a number of countries, goes some way to explaining how Putin has so far managed to avoid the blame.
Russia’s projected 2016 score of 29 is certainly a sharp jump up from 2012’s score of 21.5, yet it will still sit only two points above the EU average, well ahead of the emerging market average of 36.2 and leagues ahead of the BRICS average of 44.8.
Compared with its own outstanding record of growth over the last decade, Russia’s score is indeed very poor, yet even after the hardships forecasted by the World Bank, it will still better Italy and Spain’s 2014 scores of 31.5 and 43, respectively.
Things may be bad in comparison to the halcyon days of 2012, but a westward glance would suggest to Russians that they could be considerably worse. What is clear, though, is that one way or another, 2015 will be a defining year for Putin.
Use the dashboard below to explore the bne Intellinews Despair Index further. Use the dropdown menus to compare countries and drill-down into the component parts of each country’s score.
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