Surveys (see Figure 2) show that Russians see Putin as a strong leader who has brought order to the country, restored its great power status and successfully defended the country from external threats. This appreciation is reflected in Putin’s high approval rating, which in 18 years has never fallen below 60 %, rising since ‘reunification’ with illegally annexed Crimea in March 2014 to record-high levels, in excess of 80 %.
On the other hand, Russians are disappointed by Putin’s failure to tackle problems such as poverty and corruption. Some 51 % do not expect their lives to change for the better under his rule. Many are cynical about Putin’s motives; 42 % are at least partially convinced that he has abused his power, and 41 % believe that he serves the interests of the military and security forces, compared to just 17 % for those of ‘ordinary people’.
However, mitigating such criticism is a tendency for public opinion to shift some of the blame to the government, while crediting successes to Putin in person. In a December 2017 survey, Putin and the government are blamed in roughly equal measure for the rising cost of living, whereas 61 % attribute ‘Russia’s economic successes’ to Putin, 21 % to the government, and just 12 % to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. Only 31 % believe that Putin is fully briefed on the situation in the country; 42 % feel that he gets distorted and incomplete information; and 16 % accuse the president’s entourage of hiding the country’s problems from him. Such opinions, which fit in with the historical Russian perception that ‘the Tsar is good, the boyars (nobles) are bad’, help to explain why the country’s economic and other problems have not dented Putin’s approval ratings.
Putin’s popularity puts him on track not only to win a fourth presidential term, but also to win by a bigger margin than ever before. Polls show that, among voters who have already made their minds up, a stable percentage of over 80 % intend to vote for him.