Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Company Town Residents Increasingly Blame Putin for Problems, Poll Finds

Paul Goble

Vienna, August 4 – One in every four residents in a company town in the Urals blame Prime Minister Vladimir Putin for their economic woes and say that he and his government will not be able to solve them, according to a poll whose results were restricted to official use but which has been published by an independent regional news agency.
After Putin’s intervention in Pikalevo, many Moscow commentators have suggested that the level of popular anger in single-industry cities and the political threat it poses to the country had been overstated. But URA.ru analyst Mikhail Vyugin argues that a poll conducted in one of them shows that there is little justification for that conclusion.
In an article posted online yesterday, Vyugin says that a poll conducted in one “typical” company town in the Urals shows that support for the ruling United Russia Party has fallen by two-thirds over the past year and that ever more people blame Putin and his government for their problems (www.ura.ru/content/svrd/03-08-2009/articles/1036253929.html).
Because the poll results were intended “for official use” only, the analyst continues, he is not in a position to name the city involved or the company which conducted the poll. But he says that the survey was conducted on the basis of a representative sample of 750 respondents over the age of 18 in “a classical one-company city.”
Almost half of the sample – 47.5 percent – were workers, slightly more than a quarter --28.4 percent – were pensioners, and slightly less than a fifth – 17 percent – declared they were unemployed. Only 15 percent had higher education, and as in many such towns, women slightly outnumbered men.
Asked how the living conditions had changed in the last year, 73.6 percent said that they had become “somewhat worse,” while 5.4 percent said they were living “much worse” and 18.1 percent said their situation was unchanged. But 91.2 percent of the sample said the situation in Russia as a whole was a “crisis,” with 2.2 percent saying it is now “a catastrophe.”
While 58.9 percent said that the international financial crisis was to blame for their problems, 27.3 percent said that the difficulties they faced were the result of the policies of Putin and his government. Another 14.5 percent blamed the Central Bank, but only 12.1 percent blamed the oligarchs.
But what is especially striking, Vyugin continues, is that few people in this sample blamed the policies of earlier Russian governments – only one in every 300 did so – or was “the result of the past social system” – again only 0.3 percent was prepared to blame the Soviet past for their difficulties.
Slightly more than one in every five, however – some 22.4 percent – were prepared to say that Putin and his government “will not be able to prevent a deterioration of the financial and social-economic situation in the country. Almost half – 47.5 percent – were not willing to give an opinion. But only 30.1 percent declared that Putin would be able to deal with the situation.
It is not just Putin in whom the people of this company town have no faith, Vyugin adds. “There is no faith in political parties either.” Shown a list of parties and asked whom they would support, 65.6 percent of potential voters “could not choose a party” at all. And only 15.7 percent of the entire sample, including many unlikely to vote, said they supported United Russia.
A year ago, in a similar poll in the same city, 53.7 percent of the sample declared that they supported the party of power. The new results, Vyugin points out, suggest that popular backing for Putin’s party has fallen “more than two-thirds.” At the same time, support for the Communists has doubled and for Vladimir Zhirinovsky’s LDPR risen by three percent.
One senior manager with whom the URA.ru commentator spoke said that the results did not surprise him. “This is what one should expect. No propaganda works: people feel the crisis on their own skin and now are forgetting about those whom they loved in the fat years of the past.” By this fall, “the situation will be still worse and by next spring could be catastrophic.”
But Yevgeny Minchenko, head of the International Institute of Political Expertise, offered a different perspective. He suggested that the findings in this particular city should not be extrapolated. “Company towns are quite varied,” he said, “and the decline in the rating of United Russia in this one could be connected with the work of the party organization there.”
He added that his institute had conducted polls in Pikalevo which showed that support for the governor “who had not justified the hopes” people had placed in him had fallen but not for the ruling party in Moscow. And in Baykalsk, he said, neither the party nor Putin, “with whom people connect their hopes,” had lost support.
Even if Minchenko is correct about variations in this category of some 460 company towns, the findings of a poll that officials conducted for their own use rather than for propaganda purposes merit attention as an indication of the worsening situation in many parts of Russia and of declining support for Putin’s party in at least some of them.

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