Peter Sarukhanov — Novaya gazeta
For some reason, Vladimir Putin’s electoral rating published by the Levada Centre (37%) is thought to be catastrophically low. And yet it is the highest mark since at least July 2011, when a mere 23% of respondents said they would vote for Putin.
Considering that the ratings of Putin’s traditional sparring partners – Gennady Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky – remained stable, the question suggests itself: why was the prime minister’s rating so low and then suddenly hit a plateau at 30%?
Because in July 2011 Dmitry Medvedev’s electoral rating was 18%, just 5 percentage points behind Putin’s.
There is no doubt that had the president displayed answerability to the educated classes which were ready to back him and pinned their hopes for Russia’s dynamic development on him, his approval rating would have continued to grow. But for that to have happened, Medvedev and not Putin would have had to be nominated as candidate for president on 24 September.
There is impartial evidence of the result of the “job swap.” In September, against the background of Putin’s increased media presence and rumors that he would run for president, his rating crept up to 27%, while Medvedev’s sagged to 13%. Then came the catastrophe of 24 September and Putin’s ratings – which showed who was the boss and who was the dominant male handing out bananas from the national palm-tree known as “the budget” – rocketed. In October they were practically the same as today: 36%. Medvedev’s rating, of course, plummeted to 9% and continued to sink as the New Year approached. In January, after Medvedev told journalism students at Moscow State University that he would still run for presidentsomeday, it dropped to below 1%.
What does that prove? Medvedev could have stayed in big-time politics and succeeded in the presidential race if he had not politely let Putin pass in front of him, thus ensuring his growing ratings. Medvedev admits that one of the reasons why people came out into the streets was because he refused to run for president, thus pushing the task of modernisation (in the broad sense) off the national agenda. But that is putting it mildly. The president’s lack of confidence that he could easily have bridged the 5% gap between himself and Putin in the electoral rating by merely signaling his ambitions and demonstrating the will for power now leaves the people with a choice between two evils: Vladimir Putin and Gennady Zyuganov.
Medvedev invited himself to a beheading and carried out the sentence himself “five minutes before spring,” to quote the popular band Pesnyary, that is, five percentage points before drawing level with the man who was called “the national leader.”
One last thing: in May 2011, when everybody was waiting for Medvedev to make up his mind, his approval/disapproval ratings were level with Putin’s. Putin and Medvedev had the approval of 69% of respondents and the disapproval of 29%. That was a moment of shaky equilibrium. It was enough to tip the scales in his favor.
But Medvedev missed a historic chance. And that deprived us of a chance, too.