Putin’s Popularity Slump Threatens Electoral Success

September 4, 2018

The decision of Vladimir Putin and his party, United Russia, to increase the pension age has brought the President’s political stability under threat. Russians are set to take to the polls in just under a week to elect the country’s next set of parliamentarians, where it’s predicted that many disgruntled voters will express their concerns over this decision at the ballet box.

A number of studies have found a sharp decline in Putin’s popularity rating in recent weeks, with recent estimates showing a decline of between 12 and 30 per cent.  Public resistance to the pension reforms also threatens United Russia’s electoral popularity, with a BBC survey noting a significant decline in support for both Prime Minister, Dimitry Medvedev, and the current Russian government.

Though this issue has plagued the government since it took the decision in mid-July this year just ahead of the World Cup, it is Putin’s recent appearance in front of cameras that has led both political commentators and voters to remain sceptical of the President’s supposed commitment to improving the living standards of the Russian people.

During his television appearance on the 29th August, President Putin argued that the discussion over pension reforms had been going on for many decades – in the Soviet Union as well as under Yeltsin. These fruitless attempts to present the reforms as part of an inevitable process has led even state-owned media to take a critical stance on the Russian head of state as Pravda dared to compare Putin to the deeply unpopular Boris Yeltsin.

At this point it is vital to point out that the pension reforms have not only mobilised potentially 75 million Russian voters to participate in nationwide demonstrations, but they have also fragmented key pro-Putin voices in the build up to the national Duma elections.

Although this discontent will unlikely be enough to shake up the Putin regime’s grip on power, it does indicate that the ruling party will face concerted pressure from many groups whose unconditional support it has took for granted in recent years.  Experts view the pension reforms as a central issue to voters, which may motivate a significant number of Russians to, firstly, go and vote and, secondly, express their discontent by voting against United Russia. This may be optimistic, however.

What can be said is that the pension forms have fragmented what may previously had been called a united Russia. With this in mind, United Russia may have to turn to traditional electoral techniques and call upon the much beloved phantom voter.

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