The popularity of Russian President Vladimir Putin took a hit following the approval of hikes to retirement ages this summer, as his approval rating dropped from this year’s high of 82% set in May to 66% in September, according to independent pollster the Levada Center’s most recent survey.
Putin’s popularity was clearly affected by the changes in retirement ages which were 60 years for men and 55 for women, set in the USSR back in the 1930's when average life expectancy was 40 years. Retirement ages have recently been increased to 65 for men and 60 for women.
The “approval” poll results were highly anticipated after a “trust” poll released earlier this month found the population’s trust in Putin tumbled 20pp to 39% in September this year from 59% in November 2017, according to the Levada Center.
Russians have been upset as in effect Putin broke his social contract with the population. The increase in retirement ages is the first time that Putin has directly laid the burden of Russia’s increasing austerity on the shoulders of voters. An increase in VAT from 18% to 20% was pushed through in parallel to the changes in retirement ages.
However, his approval rating has held up much better. Putin’s approval dropped 12pp in July to 67% following the announcement of the pension age reform, but has stayed roughly the same since, falling only 1pp in September to the current 66%.
The current approval rating is amongst the lowest Putin has had since taking office in 2000 as his approval rating has consistently been in the 70s or 80s. His approval rating soared into the 80s after the decision to annex the Crimea in 2014. Previously Putin’s ratings had fallen to circa 65% in 2012-2013 when the Russian economy clearly stalled as the petro-driven economic growth model exhausted itself and growth fell to zero.
Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has also seen his approval rating drop by 10pp to 34% in September as did the approval of the Duma which is now 36%. The government’s approval rating has held up much better and fell just 7pp from its peak earlier this year to 41% in September.
The population’s overall confidence in the government has also taken a 10pp hit as the number of respondents that believe the country is “going in the right direction” fell from 56% in June to 46% following the pension reform announcement but has since recovered somewhat to 49% in September.