Russian President Vladimir Putin’s popularity in large cities tumbled by 12 percentage points in the last month to 57.1%, the state owned pollster, the Russian Public Opinion Research Centre (VTsIOM), reported on March 7.
With less than 10 days to go until Russians go to the polls to choose a new president, Putin’s popularity rating fell from 69.7% in January to 57.1% in February in the so-called millionki, or the 11 cities with more than 1mn residents, reports Vedomosti.
These are the same cities that anti-corruption blogger and opposition activist Alexei Navalny targeted last summer for a campaign of protest rallies. Real incomes were recovering last year and real disposable incomes – the money left over after food and utilities – were flat in January, but the standard of living has been falling steadily in Russia over the last few years after the government diverted most of its surplus to modernising the army.
Putin promised to reverse that trend with massive investment into human capital, housing and the social sector in his “guns & butter” state of the nation speech on March 1, reflecting the fact that very little of Russia’s economic recovery has yet trickled down to the man in the street.
The president wants productivity growth to accelerate to 5% per year (since 2009, the average growth was only 1%) during next decade, the share of SMEs in GDP to go up to 40% (from the current level of 20%), the number of people employed in SMEs to go up from 19mn to 25mn people, and to halve the number of people living below the poverty line (currently 13.8% of the population or 20mn people).
The result is surprising as VTsIOM has been consistently reporting that 71% of Russians intend to vote in the March 18 poll, the pollster reported on March 7, which is higher than rival independent pollster the Levada Center. Levada has not released any polls in the run-up to the election after it was categorised as a “foreign agent” thanks to funding it receives from abroad. The pollster says its categorisation opens it up to legal action for “interfering in elections” as a “foreign entity” and so has not released any poll results. Its last polls were lower than VTsIOM’s estimates, but still gave Putin the majority of the vote and the rest of the field single-digit approval ratings.
In cities with a population of 100,000 to 500,000 people and those with up to 100,000 people the president's rating remains stable, according to VTsIOM.
The biggest winner from Putin’s falling rating has been Pavel Grudinin, candidate of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, who has seen his ratings grow to about 8%.
However, Grudinin ran into problems this week after it came out that he has bank accounts in Switzerland that he did not declare. Russia’s Central Election Committee is currently investigating but may remove his name from the ballot. That would be a big problem for the Kremlin, which is struggling to make the elections interesting enough so voters will actually turn out to vote. While there is little doubt of Putin’s victory, a low turnout will undermine his legitimacy and only fuel more protests. Last year regional and municipal elections were marred by historically low turnouts.