MOSCOW, Russia - Even as the crucial Russian Presidential election draws close, President Vladimir Putin is widely expected to win - however, a prominent Russian newspaper recently released a report on a significant drop in his popularity.
According to the Moscow-based business newspaper Vedomosti, Putin’s popularity has dropped by 12 percent in cities with more than 1 million inhabitants.
The poll numbers, recorded between mid-January and mid-February were released by the newspaper, which was once a joint venture between Dow Jones, the Financial Times and the publishers of The Moscow Times.
The newspaper said that its report was based on a survey issued by the state-run Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VTsIOM).
VTsIOM reportedly said that Putin's popularity fell from almost 70 percent to slightly above 57 percent in large and mid-size Russian cities whose populations cumulatively represent roughly one quarter of the electorate.
However, Valery Fyodorov, director of VTsIOM, immediately denied the legitimacy of the survey findings his organization published in late February.
Fyodorov pointed out that a follow-up VTsIOM survey conducted betweenMarch 2 and 4 showed Putin's 12-percent plunge was an "insignificant and temporary decrease."
He said, "On January 10, Putin's popularity rose to almost 70 percent, and on February 18, it fell to 57.1 percent. Now [Putin], in Moscow and St. Petersburg, has an approval rating of 63 percent."
However, a Latvia-based Russian language news outlet Meduza said, “Polls show the same trend" of a 12-percent drop "in cities with populations between 100,000 and 500,000 people."
The Meduza report said, "Putin's candidate rating has remained stable only in cities with populations between 500,000 and 950,000 people, and in smaller towns and villages.”
The report further added that VTsIOM also shows an increasing number of undecided voters and people who endorse Pavel Grudinin, the Communist Party's candidate, in large cities.
Meanwhile, some independent Russian media such as Znak.com, where election 2018 is often called the "re-election of Vladimir Putin," Kremlin officials are already preparing a rally.
Further, a concert is also reportedly being planned in Putin's honor on March 18 or 19, when preliminary results of the vote will be announced.
The report quoted political scientist Nikolai Petrov of Moscow's National Research University Higher School of Economics (NRUHSE) as saying that although uneven voter turnout in cities and rural areas may not affect the outcome of the election - severe irregularities would be bad for Putin's political legacy.
In a statement, he said, "In this sense, the Kremlin is in a difficult situation. Because the last thing he wants is either a too wide a gap or too low a voter turnout in [Moscow or St. Petersburg], where it is very difficult for him to ensure high turnout.”
Petrov added, "Putin is competing not with other presidential candidates, but with himself.”
He also explained that the aging Russian leader's last re-election bid was met with massive streets protests in major cities.
He said, in this sense "he must not lose in a significant way in this internal, mental competition" to secure his long-term political and populist legitimacy.
The report also quoted NRUHSE social scientist Alexander Kynev as saying that Putin and those tasked with ensuring his re-election walk a fine line when it comes to presenting research about his popular appeal.
He added that excessively high popularity ratings for Putin risks giving his support base the impression that there is no need to bother going out to the polls.
Kynev explained, “In this sense, it may be better to preserve the intrigue and induce the voter, regardless of the fact that the result looks predetermined, to come out and vote on March 18.”