Despite the grinding crisis and slowly falling real income levels of the last few years, the average Russian is remarkably sanguine about their situation. The propensity to protest is at levels not seen for more than a decade and continues to fall slowly.
Moreover, if Russians are going to take to the streets they are more likely to come with economic demands than they are with political demands – the people remain largely satisfied with their leaders.
In December, the independent pollster the Levada Center found that only 12% of respondents said protests with political demands are possible and if they were to happen only 9% said they would participate in them. Russians are more concerned with economic issues and 15% said protest with economic demands are possible, of which 12% said they would participate in those protests.
These numbers are way down on the historical peaks of 48% who thought economic protests were possible in September 1998, the month after Russia’s financial crisis erupted, when 33% said they would participate if the protests happened.
The desire to protest with economic demands is very seasonal in Russia; the first few months of the year are Russia’s protest season. In most years the high water mark for discontent during a year usually comes sometime in February or March with peaks of over 30% in these months in 2005, 2006, 2007, a big one in 2009 (39%), 2010, 2011, and 2012, which saw the last large spike (35%) in discontent with the economic situation in Russia. However, since then, while the seasonal spikes remain, the level of discontent has fallen off dramatically into the teens.
A similar story is playing out with the propensity to protest with political demands, where the noughties saw much higher levels of discontent that has since fallen off into the teens, although the propensity for political protests show none of the seasonality that is seen in the economic context.
Russia suffered a winter of discontent in 1998 following the total collapse of Russia's financial system on August 17 that year and respondents to the survey beleived the possibility of protest rose to a peak of 50%. There were a few quiet years in the early part of the last decade, but discontent with politics resumed in the later part of the decade. However, even in the winter of 2011 when crowds of over 100,000 hit the streets of Moscow following a rigged Duma election, for the country as a whole the propensity to protest only reached 29% that December, suggesting that Moscow's population remains a lot more politicised than the rest of the country, as many have suggested. The current levels of propensity to protest are actually some of the lowest Russian has seen for almost two decades.
This lack of interest in protests is linked with President Vladimir Putin’s on-going sky high popularity rating (85% in January) and the general impression that the country is going in the right direction (54% in January), according to other Levada polls.