A puzzle that preoccupies foreign journalists and diplomats in Moscow is Vladimir Putin’s enduring popularity with the Russian people. As the Levada Centre has been monitoring attitudes towards him since his first days as prime minister back in 1999, we can help explain it.
There are many parameters to measure Putin’s popularity, but there are three main indicators: his approval rating as president or prime minister; trust in him as a politician; and his presidential rating, which is the number of people ready to vote for him as president.
Putin’s often-cited 86 per cent approval rating is the most famous indicator, though now it is around 80 per cent. It is incorrect, however, to equate approval with the number of people who love Putin or support his policies. Only a small proportion of the population actually expresses admiration for Putin. Approval is best interpreted as the number of Russians who accept the status quo and see Putin as a legitimate ruler.