At first glance, the results of a new opinion poll on approval ratings for President Vladimir Putin seem to indicate something very strange - a significant number of Russians are apparently content with their discontentment.
While 63 percent of Russians approve of Putin’s policies, only 41 percent think the country is heading in the right direction, an opinion survey published on Thursday by the independent Moscow-based Levada Center pollster indicated.
“There is a mechanism at work here that protects and relieves Putin of responsibility and puts the onus on lower levels of authority – the government, regional authorities and so on,” Levada Center head Lev Gudkov told RIA Novosti. “It’s a case of ‘good tsar, bad nobility.’”
“But it would not be correct to seek logic from the mass consciousness,” he laughed.
And Sergei Markov, an analyst and former lawmaker in the ruling United Russia party, also said the “contradiction” was down to the fact that many Russians did not hold Putin directly responsible for the country’s problems.
“The majority of people put the blame on oligarchs, other officials and even the opposition,” he said. “They feel that the pro-West opposition isn’t letting Putin do his job.”
While Putin’s approval ratings remain high in comparison with those for leaders of Western countries, the latest survey indicates a 4 percent decline from July and his lowest levels since December 2011, when mass protests against his rule broke out in Moscow.
But analyst Maria Lipman at the Moscow-based Carnegie Center think-tank suggested that Putin’s ratings were a poor reflection of people’s true levels of satisfaction.
“If you look at how people respond to policies like concrete issues, such as the police, the courts or civil servants, around two-thirds consistently express discontentment,” she said.
Lipman also suggested that many Russians “approve” of Putin because they see no alternative to his rule.
“Putin’s popularity shouldn’t be seen as a rating that compares him to others, because there are no others. Because he has no rivals, people look at him as the embodiment of statehood,” she added. “People are not blind and stupid, they know things are not great, but they surrender their responsibility to the guy at the top.”
“Russian traditional statehood is all about how the state is omniscient and the people are powerless," she went on. "People approve of the habitual order - even if this order is not particularly orderly."
The Levada poll also indicated that confidence in Putin was at 37 percent. Levada head Gudkov explained the discrepancy between the president’s approval and confidence ratings by saying the latter was a “much more complex” issue.
Levada polled 1,601 people across Russia on August 17-21. The margin of error was no greater than 3.4 percent.