Publication: Monitor Volume: 6 Issue: 48

National surveys show Vladimir Putin holding on to a solid majority of popular support, in the region of 55-60 percent, with Communist challenger Gennady Zyuganov running a distant second, with less than 20 percent support. The only question that most analysts are discussing is whether Putin will secure sufficient votes (50 percent) in the first round to win outright–and whether the oligarchs who control the TV stations see such a victory as desirable (The theory being that a strong Putin victory will make him less indebted to the oligarchs.) Indeed, it is worth noting that Russian Public Television (ORT), the 51-percent state-owned channel generally assumed to be controlled by Boris Berezovsky, has begun covering Putin quite critically. Last night, in its coverage of Putin’s trip to the Ivanova region, the channel openly suggested that he was using his official post to campaign–which is illegal–and made much of the fact that roads in Ivanova were paved by military personnel on the eve of Putin’s visit (ORT, March 7).

Be that as it may, it is also worth asking the question: What sorts of people are supporting Putin, and why? One of the few polls to probe the demographics of Putin support was completed in early February in Samara Oblast by sociologists Leonid Kesselman and Vladimir Zvonovski. Why Samara? Because that is the home of Governor Konstantin Titov, a member of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) and the main liberal challenger to Putin, alongside the perennial candidate, Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky.

The poll (of more than 2,000 residents) came up with some interesting findings. The fact that support for Titov is incredibly weak in his own oblast is perhaps not surprising. Even though 59 percent of respondents said that they would vote for Titov as governor, only 14.5 percent said they would support him as president, compared to 48.5 percent who said that they would vote for Putin and 17.5 percent for Zyuganov.

What was surprising was the extent to which Putin drew support from what is conventionally regarded as the liberal wing of the electorate–those who are young, educated and economically prosperous. Putin was backed by 58 percent of students and 20-25 year olds, compared to only 40 percent of those over 55. He was also preferred by 50 percent of women compared to 46.5 percent of men. Sixty percent of those whose living standard had improved over the past year backed Putin, compared to 40 percent of those who said it had worsened.

Also important to note is that Putin drew support from across the entire political spectrum. Seventy-four percent of those who voted for Unity in the December Duma election said they will vote for Putin as president–but so did 61 percent of SPS supporters, and 49 percent of those who backed Fatherland-All Russia (OVR). Putin even beat Yavlinsky among Yabloko voters, by 37 to 36 percent. Ten percent of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) voters said they would back Putin. The acting president even won 40 percent support among those who did not vote in December, and 32 percent of those who voted against all. All this suggests that a high turnout on March 26 will benefit Putin.