Why half of Russians are ready to back Putin for a 4th term
If the Russian presidential elections were held over the upcoming weekend instead of March 2018, 48 percent of Russian citizens would vote for President Vladimir Putin, according to a Levada Center survey published on May 2 (1,600 people took part).
Putin does not really have any strong rivals. The nearest "pursuers" — Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party chief Vladimir Zhirinovsky — received three percent in the survey. Even less people (one percent) are ready to vote for Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, and opposition figure Alexei Navalny.
Sociologists believe that if Putin decides to run in the elections (he still has not confirmed his participation), his victory will practically be inevitable. "Is there a chance that in the 2018 elections someone besides Putin will win? Only if he refuses to run and proposes someone else in his stead. But if he runs himself, there is no chance," RBK daily cites Valery Fyodorov, general director of the Russian Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM).
The secrets of his popularity
With less than a year left until the presidential elections, Putin's popularity ratings remain unchanged, notes Levada Center sociologist Denis Volkov. In an interview with RBTH the expert said that in the minds of the majority Putin is still associated with the economic boom at the beginning of the 2000s, the years in which he held his first two presidential terms, as well as with the rebirth of Russia as a "great superpower" (in relation to Crimea uniting with the Russian Federation in 2014).
Putin's rating grew precisely after Crimea became part of Russia, Volkov adds. In April 2015, a record number of 62 percent of Russians were ready to vote for Putin. Subsequently, there was a small decline: 53 percent in April 2016 and 48 percent this year. "Now the Crimean effect is gradually subsiding, the euphoria has passed and people have started thinking more about domestic problems. A certain normalization has occurred, I would say," explains Volkov.
According to Volkov, another factor that makes Putin popular is the absence of serious competition. "Politicians such as Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky, who are integrated into the system — the more they continue, the less seriously they are perceived. And concerning unsystematic oppositionists such as Navalny, they don't have a broad platform to express themselves, they are not invited to speak on state TV channels. That is why there is the feeling that there is no alternative."
How to bring people to the elections
The Levada survey shows that many people are still not ready to vote. Thirteen percent of those surveyed are certain that they will not vote, 10 percent do not know whether they will go to the polls or not, and 19 percent said they do not know who to vote for. This means that 42 percent of Russian citizens do not know who to vote for in the presidential elections or whether they should vote to begin with.
A low turnout at the 2018 presidential elections is undesirable for the government, said Pavel Salin, director of the Center for Political Studies at the Financial University. "The government was very unhappy about the low turnout at the parliamentary elections in September 2016 (in which the ruling United Russia Party gathered 54 percent of the votes, but only 48 percent of the voting public came to the polls). For half a year the Kremlin has been searching for a way to increase the turnout at the presidential elections, which are more important for the government."
Valery Fyodorov from VTsIOM notes that for Putin, if he runs in 2018, it is important not only to win confidently, but to win in elections in which the majority of voters come to vote. In Fyodorov's words, the probability of a low turnout increases precisely because of Putin's high rating. The general certainty that he will win anyway may impede the mobilization of the loyal electorate.