Putin’s popularity rating falls to historic low

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A screen shows Russia’s President Vladimir Putin during the 15th annual end-of-year news conference at the World Trade Centre in Moscow.

Valery Sharifulin

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating fell in April to a historic low as the coronavirus crisis engulfs the country, along with the rest of the world.

Putin’s approval rating fell to 59% in April, down from 63% in the previous month, according to a poll carried out by the independent Levada Center in Russia, which surveyed 1,608 Russian adults between April 24-27. 

The poll was conducted by telephone rather than face to face, and the pollster said this “significant” change in the methodology could have contributed to Putin’s lower rating. In January, his approval rating stood at 68%, and in February, at 69%.

Still, Levada’s Deputy Director Denis Volkov told Reuters Wednesday that although the change in methodology could have shaved 1-2% off Putin’s rating, even a rating of 61% would still mean Putin’s approval rating was on par with a recent low recorded in 2013. Wednesday’s figure means it has hit lows not seen since Putin first rose to power in 1999.

The poll comes as Russia’s president grapples with the coronavirus outbreak in the country — perhaps the biggest challenge that has faced him during his 20 years of leading the country, whether as president or prime minister (he has alternated between the roles since late 1999).

For the fourth day in a row on Wednesday, Russia reported more than 10,000 new cases of the virus (10,559 cases to be precise) from the previous day, bringing the total number of cases to 165,929. Russia’s coronavirus crisis response center reported 86 new deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities to 1,537.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman and a top official at the Kremlin, told CNBC that the approval ratings were volatile at the moment, due to the country’s acute coronavirus outbreak.

“It’s understandable that in such a difficult situation when people are losing their businesses, people are losing their salaries, people are suffering from staying at home, with their children, people are suffering from not being able to send their children to school. This is the reality we have to deal with,” he said, and that had affected their grounds for optimism.

Peskov said Putin had never depended on his popularity rating, however. “He (Putin) has said numerous times that for a statesman, it’s impossible to be dependent on your rating. Because if everyday you’re nervous about your rating, you simply won’t be able to take responsible decisions. This is his way of doing business,” Peskov noted on Tuesday.

Nonetheless, an approval rating of 59% for the 67-year old president is still the lowest level that his rating has been in years. In November 2013, Putin’s approval rating stood at a comparable low of 61% but it shot up to 80% in March 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine. Russia provoked international condemnation for that, and sanctions remain on the country to this day.

Putin’s approval rating has remained high. Although in 2019, the rating lingered in the 60-70% range. Before the coronavirus outbreak struck Russia, the country was going to hold a referendum on constitutional changes that would allow the president to run for more terms in office. The vote has been postponed.

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