Levada Center polls offer a bird’s-eye view of what Russians think right now

According to Levada Center polls, the majority of Russian people generally approve Vladimir Putin and believe that things in Russia are going in the right direction. But as Levada’s head Lev Gudkov points out, the authoritarian regime is based on public apathy and lack of resistance. Photo: Grigory Sysoev / Sputnik via AP.

Approval ratings

In February 2020, 69 percent of Russians approved of Vladimir Putin. As of March 2021, his popularity rests at 63 percent. For the Russian government, throughout 2020, approval hovered around 50 percent, dipping slightly in the first two months of 2021 to 47 percent and then recovering to 49 percent in March, all of which is within the margin of error. The State Duma demonstrates similar stability, entering 2020 with an approval rating of 41 percent, which remains only increased by one percent in 2021. Still, with new parliamentary elections slated for September this year, the regime might run into some troubles mobilizing the base, as the approval rating for the pro-Putin United Russia party dropped to 27 percent — the lowest point over the last five years.

Russia’s state of affairs

Polls also show that Russian people generally believe things are going in the right direction. At the beginning of 2020, 52 percent of respondents agreed with that view. During the pandemic lockdown months (March through July 2020), this number dropped to 42 percent, but, as of March 2021, it had crawled back to 48 percent.

Protests

In early 2020, widespread protests were relatively unexpected by Russians, but by the summer, the numbers of those expecting protests and planning to participate had risen, before falling again in early 2021. It is noteworthy that in March 2021, 58 percent of Russians named the rise in prices as the key issue in the country, with poverty (40 percent), corruption (39 percent), and growing unemployment (36 percent) trailing slightly behind.

Russia and Europe

When it comes to attitudes toward Russia-West relations, the United States and the European Union have been consistently losing Russians’ approval over recent years. In February 2021, 64 percent of respondents also considered Russia a non-European country, while only 29 percent disagreed. (In August 2019, this ratio was 55 to 37 percent.) Interestingly enough, the share of those who do not consider Russia a European country is the largest among the Russian youth aged 18–24: 71 percent versus 23 percent; it is the lowest among the 55-plus demographics: 58 percent versus 33 percent.

Russia-U.S.

A year ago, 49 percent of Russians reported favorable views of the U.S., but today this number has decreased to 45 percent. Certain events, such as the U.S. presidential election, punctuate the poll numbers. With the new U.S. administration taking a harder stance on Russia, a majority of Russians continues to view the US negatively — likely due to the Kremlin propaganda efforts, exemplified in the elections’ negative coverage. For instance, in January 2020, 42 percent of Russians had a favorable view of the U.S., but this number dropped to 35 percent around the U.S. elections in November last year. In 2021, attitudes have leveled off at 40 percent. (It is worth noting that the record low number was just 12 percent in 2012.)

A sociologist’s-eye view

Sociologist Lev Gudkov, who heads the Levada Center, shared his insights on the polling data in an interview with Znak.com. He recalls that over the years the majority of institutions in Russia have been losing public trust. The only three that still enjoy it are the army, the president, and the FSB (plus other special services), while civil society institutions are currently bottom of the list. On balance, these data point to the pillars of the repressive authoritarian state built in Russia.

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Institute of Modern Russia

Institute of Modern Russia

The Institute of Modern Russia (IMR) is a nonpartisan US-based think-tank focused on policy analysis, research, and human rights.