More than half of Russians believe that the country is moving in the right direction, with 51% saying so for the second month in a row, according to a poll by Moscow’s Levada-Center.
The March and February data followed January’s 45% rating, which marked a 24-month low in Levada’s monthly socioeconomic opinion poll on Russians’ perceptions of the country as a whole.
The upturn in public opinion has coincided with a marked improvement in the state of the Russian economy, with February data showing significant decreases in Russia’s painful inflation for the third month in a row, as the first bneChart shows.
February’s 8.1% year-on-year inflation marked a fall of nearly half when compared with November 2015’s figure of 15.6% – a large fall in only three months by any standards. December’s 12.9% and January’s 9.8% figures complete the clear downward trend in consumer prices, which was likely enough to convince Russians that the bottom of the recession really has come and gone.
Two consecutive months of improvements in real wages will have had the same effect, with January’s 3.6% and February’s 2.6% year-on-year decreases representing huge improvements on 2015, as the second bneChart shows, albeit remaining in negative territory.
For Putin and his ruling United Russia party, the boost to public opinion is coming at just the right time, as Russia’s election campaign season gets underway.
Legislative elections to the state Duma will be held in September this year, and while the presidential election is still two years away, an increase in Putin’s popularity will almost certainly translate into votes for United Russia.
The same Levada poll showed that President Vladimir Putin’s popularity is indeed on the rise, following a New Year slump, with his approval rising 1 percentage point (pp) to 82% in March.
If previous trends in Russian opinion polls hold true, then Putin’s announcement on March 15 that Russian troops will be withdrawing from Syria will likely have played a large role in the uptick in his popularity, with the implicit message of Russian victory in Syria no doubt having the same effect on Putin’s popularity that previous military engagements have had.
As the third bneChart shows, Russian military action abroad throughout Putin’s terms in office has, almost without exception, led to a sharp and immediate spike in his popularity, the steepest coming in 2014, following the annexation of Crimea.
Steep declines in Putin’s approval ratings have tended to occur following domestic issues that hit Russians financially. The sharp fall in 2004 following the monetisation of state benefits and the gradual deterioration in popularity following the 2008 global crisis show this.
While Putin's popularity ratings, as shown in the third bneChart, suggest a mercurial relationship between the president and the people, the fact remains that since his tenures at the helm of Russia began in May 2000, his approval rating has not once fallen below 60%.