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Putin’s Popularity Down, Populist Spending Goes Up

Some interesting developments in Russian politics in the months since President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that they would swap jobs – a decision that they say that had made several years prior.

A new Levada poll shows that the popularity of the United Russia party, Medvedev, and even Putin are all sharply down:

Medvedev’s approval rating has gone from 77% to 57%, while Putin’s dropped from 80% to 61%, according to the survey conducted by the Levada Centre think tank. Support for the ruling party dipped from 60% two weeks ago to 51%, with a spike in support for the Communist Party and the Liberal Democrats. (…)

Deputy Director of the Levada Center Alexei Grazhdankin told Kommersant the fall in popularity of the ruling party was linked to the decline in support for its two top figures. While he did not predict a collapse of United Russia, Grazhdankin said many voters were offended at the recently announced power swap. (…)

Medvedev, “after three years in office was perceived as an independent political figure, with a real support group.” But people expected real opposition during the electoral cycle, which instead has “turned out as it always does,” notes Grazhdankin.

Of course any Western politician would salivate over a 61% approval rating, but it’s well known that the Kremlin does not enjoy any level of uncertainty or unpredictability (which are kinda central to democracy, etc.), especially in the lead up to an election.  So they are breaking open the piggy bank.  From the FT Beyond Brics:

Vedomosti, the paper part-owned by the FT, reported in its main story on Tuesday that Putin would have an opportunity to hand out 200bn roubles (US$6.6bn) ahead of the presidential elections.

Vedomosti reports that it has seen amendments to the budget for 2012-14 ahead of its expected second reading in the Duma and spotted that the government is seeking authorisation for 200bn roubles to be redistributed for social aid and support for enterprises.

The story isn’t clear where the money is coming from. But it cites a government official as saying that this is the first time the government would be given the right to redistribute spending for social needs, and that the 200bn roubles could be called a “pre-election fund”.

But can just a little bit of populist spending make up for voter dissatisfaction over the Putin-Medvedev swap?  We’ll see.