Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Putin’s Poll Numbers a Resource He Can Use Rather than Hoard, ‘Nezavisimaya’ Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 21 – After falling since the election, Vladimir Putin’s poll numbers have stabilized, with surveys by both the Public Opinion Foundation and VTsIOM showing a slight uptick, a pattern that experts explain by a decline in attention to the pension issue and a growing acceptance that this reform is going to happen, Nezavisimaya gazeta says.

            In a lead article today, the editors of the Moscow paper add that it should be noted that “several months after the presidential election, the authorities are hardly concerned by the sharp summer fall in ratings and are focused on stabilizing it. The decline was expected and probably even programmed in” (ng.ru/editorial/2018-08-20/2_7292_red.html).

            These “indicators of trust and approval and the electoral rating are political currency, a resource which there is no reason to save but many reasons to spend” when the regime needs it, the paper continues.  “Pension reform is a rare case over the last 18 years when the authorities intentionally spent part of this rating” for strategic purposes.

            “The authorities,” Nezavisimaya gazeta says, “are changing the structure of budgetary spending, including pension payments in order to build up means for major socio-economic and infrastructure projects. If everything goes according to plan, then by the end of the six-year term, the state and the ruling elite will be able to recover for themselves the numbers which they have voluntarily surrendered today.”

                The paper continues: “the stabilization of Putin’s rating has occurred at the level of 60 to 63 percent,” figures that are still very high and ones that any Western leader could “only dream of.”  That gives Putin the opportunity to carry out several unpopular measures at once and “still remain the favorite of any electoral race.”

            Indeed, the fact that trust in the government is approximately 30 percent lower than trust in the president “gives Putin space for maneuver. At a critical moment, he can simply make changes in the council of ministers” as was the case in the earlier period of his rule in response to anger about the monetarization of benefits.

            Moreover, Nezavisimaya gazeta says, the rating declines Putin experienced this summer must be put in the Russian context. Elsewhere such declines would force change, but in Russia, that is not the case because the various political parties still have ratings far lower than Putin and thus aren’t in a position to make press their case.

            And the editors thus conclude that “if elections were held now, the opposition would have an agenda, but despite that, the powers that be do just as well as they would have were Putin’s rating were still at 75 percent.”  Thus overreading the changes in Putin’s ratings is almost certainly a mistake. 

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