This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russians’ trust in President Vladimir Putin has fallen over the past two years, according to a new poll, dropping to its lowest level since 2013, the year after he returned to the presidency.
The survey released February 12 by the independent Levada Center echoes other opinion polls showing decreasing approval of Putin, who has effectively been the country’s preeminent political leader since 2000.
Some 35 percent of respondents said they trusted Putin most among several of the country’s top political figures, according to the poll, down from 59 percent in November 2017.
The two other political figures garnering the highest trust ratings were Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, both of whose ratings inched slightly higher.
“The drop of 24 percentage points [since November 2017) is really significant,” Lev Gudkov, the director of the Levada Center, told RFE/RL. “It reflects an overall trend, showing a loss of trust.”
The slip in approval ratings comes at a problematic time for the Kremlin, amid discussions about what role Putin expects to move into following the conclusion of his second, six-year term as president, in 2024.
Last month, Putin unveiled proposals for substantial changes to Russia’s political structure, with some presidential powers shifting to parliament, and an enhanced role for a quasi-advisory body called the State Council. The proposals are part of a series of constitutional amendments that parliament is set to debate and vote on in the coming weeks.
Notably, the Levada poll was conducted from January 23-29, after Putin unveiled the proposed political changes, in his annual state-of-the-nation address, held on January 15.
The survey of 1,603 Russian voters was conducted via in-person interviews nationwide and has a margin of error of 2.9 percentage points. As in past surveys, respondents were asked to name five or six political figures and rate their trustworthiness.
Putin returned to the presidency in 2012 after a four-year hiatus where he served as prime minister and his longtime protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, was president.
Putin’s return was met with massive street protests, particularly in Moscow, which helped send his trust rating in August 2013 to 30 percent — the lowest level to date.
Putin’s slip in trust ratings contrasts sharply with his approval ratings, which jumped markedly after 2014, with the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea Peninsula and outbreak of fighting in eastern Ukraine.
He remains Russia’s most popular political figure, with Levada’s most recent poll on the subject showing 68 percent of Russians approved of his performance, though that figure has also dropped.
Levada’s findings match up with those of the state-funded pollster known as VTsIOM, which last year reported Putin’s trust rating falling to the lowest level of his 20 years in power.
The findings prompted criticism by the Kremlin, resulting in VTsIOM changing the wording of its poll. That in turn drew criticism from sociologists and other experts, who accused VTsIOM of succumbing to political pressure.
Levada is independent and has been forced to register as a foreign agent under a controversial law aimed at restricting foreign funding for nongovernmental organizations, media organizations, and others.
One of Putin’s first major policy pushes after being reelected to his second, six-year term in 2018 was changing the country’s Soviet-legacy pension system, which officials had warned for years was causing fiscal problems.
But the reforms were met with street protests, particularly among older voters. That has helped push down his trust ratings.
The government also pushed through an increase in the national value-added tax. That, along with stagnating wages and mounting concerns about the health of the economy, has also undermined trust in Putin.
“The economic situation is murky. People feel the situation is worsening, the pension reforms, incomes are dropping, there’s the sense of absence for optimism, hope for an improvement in the future,” Gudkov said.
“From the other side, there’s the decrease in trust over social-welfare issues: problems with prescription medicines, corruption, environmental problems, fears about political repression,” he said, adding that “taken altogether, it contributes to the lost in trust in Putin, and explains the drop.”