As Russia undergoes its longest recession in two decades and living standards decline, the economic malaise is affecting President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings that have fallen to a 27-month low of 80 percent. While that number is perhaps out of reach for most politicians anywhere in the world, Putin has consistently stayed above that mark ever since the annexation of Crimea in March 2014.
The Russian economy is in tatters as the price of crude oil — one of the mainstays for the country’s coffers — went tumbling from its peak of over $125 in 2012 to below $28 in January this year. The ruble, which was trading just under 52 to a dollar a year ago, depreciated almost in sync with oil prices to a low of more than 82 to a dollar in January.
Both crude oil and the ruble have recovered from their January lows, with Brent prices breaching the $50 mark earlier this week and the ruble trading below 66 to a dollar Friday. But economic hardships continue in Russia, especially in the vast countryside that forms the bulk of Putin’s support.
That is perhaps the main reason behind Putin’s latest, and lowered, approval rating of 80 percent, recorded in a poll conducted by Russian pollster Levada-Center, which carries out monthly surveys of 1,600 adults from across Russia. From a peak of 89 percent approval in June 2015, Putin was rated favorably by 82 percent of those polled in March and April this year.
While Putin’s tough talk and macho persona may not be helping his ratings right now, a closer look at the monthly ratings shows a more or less clear correlation with Russia’s military adventures. After Russia started its intervention in Syria in September 2015 — in support of beleaguered President Bashar Assad — approval for Putin’s actions climbed 4 points to 88 percent in October. Two years earlier, in February 2014 — the month before Russia’s annexation of Crimea — Putin was rated favorably by only 69 percent of those polled. A month later, the figure stood at 80 percent, the last time approval for the Russian president was at that level.
In comparison, U.S. President Barack Obama has an average approval rating of 47 percent for his two terms combined so far, according to Gallup polls. Obama’s highest rating was 67 percent, during his first week in office in his first term in January 2009. The highest average rating for U.S. presidents since World War II was for John F. Kennedy who scored 70.1 percent during his 34 months in office.
However, a link between wars and popularity of presidents seems evident in the U.S. as well, according to data from Gallup polls. George W. Bush had the highest monthly approval rating, of 90 percent, during September 2001, when al Qaeda brought down the World Trade Center in New York. His father, George Bush, was a close second with 89 percent approval in February 1991 during the height of the Gulf War.
In what would perhaps be music to presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump’s ears, another Gallup poll whose results were released Thursday showed that Russians’ approval of U.S. leadership fell to 1 percent in 2015, the lowest in 10 years, having dropped from the 4 percent approval recorded in 2014.