Putin`s popularity steadily falling

Russian President Vladimir Putin is losing his rating but Kremlin pundits tend to play down the accuracy of opinion poll results, argues a leading national daily. According to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, polls carried out by the Public Opinion Foundation showed that Putin "fared worse than even during his time as prime minister".

Public opinion polls taken in the middle of last month have confirmed an unfavourable tendency for the head of state. His popularity rating, which stuttered earlier this year, is continuing to fall. According to surveys conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation, the president's popular support hit a rock bottom according to some indicators in mid-February, or the lowest level in the past five years. Given the Public Opinion Foundation's loyalty to the authorities, this information should be trusted in this case.

Unpopular Putin?
On 19-20 February, Public Opinion Foundation specialists polled 3,000 respondents in 200 population centres of 63 Regions of the country. The number of those ready to vote for Vladimir Putin in hypothetical elections next Sunday decreased from 44 per cent in early February to 42 per cent. But one week earlier this figure even reached 41 per cent, the lowest since Putin was placed on the rating list.
In other words, he fared worse than even during his time as prime minister (the first surveys in 2000 gave him 45 per cent of popular support). Also decreasing is the group of Russians who have a "positive and trusting" attitude towards the president: Such people account for 25 per cent of those polled now. Mid-February saw a record large slump in the presidential rating in the past four years: The figure has dropped to 23 per cent.
Answers to the question "How do you assess the performance of Vladimir Putin in the post of president?" have proved no more reassuring. The "good" and "excellent" marks were given by 33 per cent of the respondents (compared to 37 per cent at the year's beginning), while "bad" and "very bad" came from 17 per cent (compared to 13 per cent in January).
Yesterday, the Public Opinion Foundation management declined to comment to Nezavisimaya Gazeta on the figures posted on its own site, obviously considering them too "tale-telling" as it is. Literally one hour later, however, the Foundation's Internet site displayed updated data - a bit "improved". Let us note that the site is usually updated on Thursdays.
Instead, Leonid Sedov, a leading staffer of Yuriy Levada's Analytical Centre, commented on the centre's similar data: "The presidential popularity rating has actually fallen by 6-7 points in January, according to our polls. It was 39 per cent in December and 32 per cent in January. We deal here with fluctuations not on the fringes of Putin's popular support but inside the most reliable nucleus of his backers, those who intend to vote for him. It is a part of our population noted for their increased sympathy towards the president."

Cash-for-benefits law
Sedov is convinced that the fluctuations can be explained by the cash-for-benefits process. According to information from the Levada centre, 23 per cent of the population blame the president for this law. While singling out a group of respondents speaking for full abolition of this law and restoration of the previous system of benefits, the analyst points to an even worse decline in the rating, which is significantly lower than average in these groups. Leonid Sedov links these fluctuations also with changing sentiments among the youth "as the most pro-Putin part of society" (aged 18-25): "In this group, we have noticed departure from faithfulness to Putin, some coolness towards the president or at least budding doubt."

Opposition growing stronger
The decline in the president's popularity is accompanied by growing influence of opposition parties and their leaders. The Levada Centre shows "fattened" ratings of Dmitriy Rogozin and Gennadiy Zyuganov. Leonid Sedov confirms the connection between these facts. "Of course, the opposition is now going to look for a leader. Old, time-proved chiefs, too, will put on political weight," he said.
Some sociologists, who connect the falling popularity rating of the president with the social reform, consider the situation natural. Specifically, the All-Russia Centre for the Study of Public Opinion on Social and Economic Questions head Valeriy Fedorov noted in a conversation with a Nezavisimaya Gazeta correspondent. "It is quite normal that the president sacrificed his rating to modernization of the country," he said.
Notably, leading sociologists have issued reassuring declarations in recent weeks, saying that the crisis in relations between the authorities and society has been eliminated, the failed start of the social reform has been compensated for with competent actions by the government, and the popularity of all branches of power has started to grow. However, the latest Public Opinion Foundation polls testify to the contrary: No sooner had the president's rating stabilized than it again started sliding down.

Kremlin pundits downplay results
But it may not be the whole truth yet. For example, Gleb Pavlovskiy, adviser to the presidential staff chief, says that it is increasingly difficult to trust the leading sociological services. The Kreml.org Internet publication cites his speech at a seminar "Lobbying and PR Techniques", which was organized by the Belenkov Educational Centre. Speaking about reasons for the failure in Ukraine, Pavlovskiy notes: "Probably for the first time in the past 10 years, practically all sociological forecasts that I know of have failed, and those were cross forecasts and each of them was sufficiently representative. They gave better figures to Yanukovych all the time - even those ordered by the Yushchenko staff, although the publication of Yushchenko's polls was stopped as politically inconvenient. Why it happened, I think is a separate question to sociologists. It was a major blow to me because in the past 10 years I have been accustomed to working with reliable sociology, but something has failed here."
But even the present-day Russian sociology, in which "something has failed", can no longer hide the unpleasant tendency.

Source: Nezavisimaya Gazeta
BBC Monitoring