Listening to Russia
According to the Levada Centre, 90% of Russians are either not following the legal proceedings involving oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky or have never heard of him. Only 6% of October respondents were following the case, while 4% were unwilling to answer. Only 1% of respondents said they respected Khodorkovsky, while nearly 75% had no opinion about him or refused to say what they thought. As for Khodorkovsky attorney Svetlana Bakhmina, when asked
Do you think it right that, having served 4 of her 6½-year sentence, Yukos lawyer Svetlana Bakhmina, who declined to give evidence against Mikhail Khodorkovsky and who is now pregnant, should not be released on parole?
only 29% said that it was not right, 16% said it was right and the lion’s share of respondents, 48%, had no idea our would not respond. Clearly, the Kremlin’s monopoly on television and widely-circulating newspapers allows it to totally dominate the public consciousness on such issues. How would these answers have been any different in Soviet times, under conditions of totalitarian dictatorship? We doubt there would be much difference at all.
There are glimmers of hope, however, which serve to illustrate why the Kremlin remains so aggressively determined to wipe out the last vestiges of civil society in Russia. In October polling, the Levada Center found that “normally sky-high confidence in the [Putin] government had gone down from 66% to 59% since September, and Medvedev’s popularity was down from 83% to 76%. ” If that’s what the Kremlin itself is prepared to admit, do you dare to imagine what the real numbers might be? Putin’s rating fell from a truly breathtaking 88% in September to 83% in October. It had climbed to 88% from 83% in August, as Putin provoked war in Georgia and saw the stock market collapse around him. However when asked to name a half-dozen politicians they most trusted, only 56% of respondents named Putin in October, down from 62% in September. Only 47% named Medvedev, who has never had a majority of respondents expressing trust in him at any point this year. 14% disapproved of Putin, 18% of Medvedev.
When asked the critical question of whether the country was on the “right path” or the “wrong path,” 54% said it was going in the right direction, 27% the wrong direction, and 19% could not answer. Obviously, the fact that 46% of Russians either think the country is going in the wrong direction or can’t say that it isn’t must give Putin some sleepless nights.
According to the Kremlin’s own state-controlled polling entity, the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (known by its Russian acronym “VTSiOM”): “Seven times as many Russians saw their quality of life deteriorating in November as in September, and five times as many had noted unemployment rising.” VTsIOM says that Medvedev’s personal approval rating in monthly polling was just 45% in September, the most recent month for which results are posted. Putin’s approval stood at 60%. The most recent weekly personal data for each had Putin at 59% and Medvedev at 44%. And remember, that’s just what the Kremlin is willing to admit.
The chart below, by contrast, shows polling for the “institutions” of the presidency (in dark blue) and the prime ministery (in red), as well as the administration (yellow), the Duma and the Council of the Federation (Russia’s lower and upper houses of parliament, respectively, shown in light blue and green overlapping lines).
The dramatic crossover between the dark blue presidential line and the red prime-ministerial line occurs when Vladimir Putin leaves the former office to take the latter. Running through November 2008, the two lines show unwavering, lemming-like support for Putin and Medvedev regardless of the economic collapse their policies have precipiated, regardless of the international tension resulting from their invasion of Georgia, and regardless of outbreaks of race violence and insurrection in the Caucasus region.
The Duma, a rubber stamp for Putin’s policies, enjoys half his level of support. The adminstration of the prime minister, nothing but a clan of sycophants, has 30 points less public approval.