According to Levada Center, one of Russia’s main polling agencies, President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating still sits in the 80th percentile, and that number has not changed much since the annexation of Crimea (as can be seen in the chart below).
But the poll raises some interesting questions that crop up every time Levada releases their monthly results. How valid is a poll in a country that lacks legitimate leadership alternatives? Can it be relied upon to give an accurate assessment of the populations’ feelings and reactions?
If 86% of Russians “approve” of President Putin, how many are passive in the sentiment? Put another way, how many would take to the streets in support of Putin and his policies without force or inducement? This is the real test. And I suspect the numbers are not that high. Stanislav Belkovsky suggested several months ago that it’s probably about 10% of the population (though 14 million people still seems excessive to me). This is actually more discouraging than encouraging, however. In many ways the passive apathetic majority is more of a problem than the active vocal minority.
Another question Levada asks in their monthly poll is if the respondents believe Russia is heading in the right direction:
As of May 2015, 60% of Russians claim they think the country is headed in the right direction.
But barring alternatives, what else can they say? The premise of Putin’s rule has always been framed as the choice between chaos with an unknown leader or stability with Putin.
For the sake of argument, let’s say you have a country where approximately 75% of the population is apathetic. If they are not content with the status quo, at least they are not making any move to change their situation. Another 10% (using Belkovsky’s number) would actually take to the streets in support of the current regime. Meanwhile, the so-called opposition cannot even get 1% out onto the streets of Moscow to protest. Where does that leave you?
If nothing else, it makes it difficult to predict future trends.