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The Popularity of Russian Presidents

by Daniel Triesman. Reading for Tuesday, 12 February.

Determining why Yeltsin’s popularity sank and why Putin’s surged to a high level and stayed there is key to understanding politics in post-communist Russia. Analyzing time series of presidential approval since 1993, I find that much of the lore that surrounds the two presidents is not supported. Under both leaders, presidential ratings were closely tied to perceptions of economic performance, which were in turn tightly linked to objective economic indicators. Perceptions of the political situation contributed, but these were caused in part by economic perceptions. Economic perceptions explain Yeltsin’s remarkable resurgence in early 1996 to win reelection. They also predict a sharp jump in presidential approval in 1999-2000 very much like the one that carried Putin to victory in the 2000 election. While Putin’s initiation of the second Chechen war and tough response to terrorist attacks hastened the rise in his popularity, the analysis suggests this would have occurred anyway, fueled by economic factors alone.

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