Thursday, July 23, 2020

Pandemic Didn’t Cause Russians to Rally Around Putin, Scholars Say

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 21 – Social science research teaches that whenever a population experiences a shock, particularly one with natural origins, it tends to rally round the leader at least in the short term, Margarita Zavadskaya and Boris Sokolov say; but in the case of the pandemic and Vladimir Putin, this did not happen.

            Instead, the two Moscow analysts argue, a new Public Opinion Poll shows that in response to the pandemic, Russians focused on problems in their lives that they blamed on Putin’s policies and therefore behaved in ways very different from the ones they might have been expected to (

            Many Russians blamed shortcomings of the country’s medical infrastructure on Putin’s optimization campaign. Others felt that his response to the crisis was inadequate because he so obviously tried to shift responsibility to others. And still others were upset by his failure to adequately inform the population about what has been going on.

            As a result, the pandemic gave them new reasons for turning away from Putin rather than turning toward him, Zavadskaya and Sokolov say. But yet another reason for the leader’s low standing now is that the pandemic has affected not only people’s health but their economic prospects, adding to their fears and anger.

            Many Russians, the survey suggests, are even more worried about their economic prospects than their health; and in the view of many of them, Putin has not addressed their concerns adequately, failing to provide the support to them that the governments of other countries have to their populations.

            But even those Russians given to conspiracy thinking now have reasons to turn away from Putin because they view what the government has done as evidence that it believes in it. As a result, “the greatest reputation losses” Putin has suffered are precisely “among the conservative stratum of the population, where supporters of various conspiracy theories are quite high.”

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