Putin's Approval Rating Down To 80 Percent: How Has The Russian Leader Remained So Popular?

President Vladimir Putin's approval rating just slipped to its lowest in two years -- to 80 percent.

Even amid low oil prices, crippling economic sanctions, a volatile currency, and the longest recession in two decades, to say nothing of diplomatic isolation, the Russian leader's approval rating is one that leaders in many countries would kill for. Germany's Angela Merkel, considered one of the most popular Western leaders, only has a 55 percent approval rating. What lies behind Putin's seemingly invincible popularity?

The economic troubles of Russia have negatively affected his approval rating, bringing it down to 80 percent, the lowest in 27 months. But it seems the more Putin confronts international leaders, the more the Russian populace likes him. Putin has consistently remained above 80 percent approval rating since the Russian Federation's annexation of the Crimea in March of 2014. Before then, his ratings were around 60 percent following the start of the war in Ukraine in 2013. Russian aggression in the conflict, including the annexation of Crimea and sponsoring a rebellion in the east of the country, brought Russia a round of international sanctions that severely wounded the Russian economy.

This is the key to the president's continued popularity: the Kremlin and Russian state television both work hard to cultivate an image of Putin as a strong leader of a country surrounded by enemies bent on its destruction. A direct correlation can be drawn between spikes in his popularity and Russian military adventures abroad, according to the International Business Times.
"While Putin's tough talk and macho persona may not be helping his ratings right now, a closer look at the monthly ratings shows a more or less clear correlation with Russia's military adventures. After Russia started its intervention in Syria in September 2015 — in support of beleaguered President Bashar Assad — approval for Putin's actions climbed 4 points to 88 percent in October. Two years earlier, in February 2014 — the month before Russia's annexation of Crimea — Putin was rated favorably by only 69 percent of those polled. A month later, the figure stood at 80 percent, the last time approval for the Russian president was at that level."
Putin's standoff with the West over Ukraine and Syria have unleashed a patriotic fervor in Russia, even as economic hardships continue. The low price of crude oil, one of Russia's staple exports, has made the situation far worse, with prices tumbling to $28 a barrel in January. The ruble, once trading at 52 to a dollar, plummeted to 82 to a dollar in January of this year. Though both have climbed back up from their January lows, with oil climbing above $50 a barrel earlier this week and the ruble trading at just below 66 to the dollar on Friday, but temporary gains will not address Russia's fundamental economic problems.
To all this, it's worth noting that Putin's approval numbers may not be as flattering as they seem on the surface, as Quartz reported.
"The image-conscious Russian president's skillful management of his messages has shielded him from the country's broader woes. Indeed, just under half of Russians think the country is headed in the right direction, far fewer think their president—who has consolidated control in his 16 years in power—is doing a good job."
Still, Bloomberg predicted tough times ahead for the Russian people, many of which have grown used to Putin's reign or see no viable opposition in Russia.
"Russians have a long history of enduring hardship, and it's a highly conservative society in which even those who dislike Putin see no real alternative to him. At 63 and after 16 years in power, Putin has outlasted all other major international leaders. He'll soon be on his fourth U.S. president. "
Russian pollster Levada-Center reported the figure from its monthly survey, which polled 1,600 adults from across Russia. It was down from 89 percent in June of 2015.

[Photo by Anna Sergeeva/Getty Images]