Vladimir Putin has been at the helm of the Russian state in different official capacities for over two decades. This remarkable achievement wouldn’t be possible without broad public support, as well as their belief that such support is credible. One major Russian polling company with close ties to the Kremlin1, WCIOM (aka VTsIOM, VCIOM, or ВЦИОМ), has been instrumental in convincing the country of Putin’s high ratings through weekly publications based on phone polls.
The consistency and levels of support cannot help but raise suspicion, which we entertain in this post. We conducted our own online poll amongst 372 panellists from across Russia to validate WCIOM’s claims. In doing so, we attempted to keep the methodology as close as possible to theirs, serparately asking the following question about several politicians:
Скажите, пожалуйста, Вы доверяете или не доверяете …?
- ✅✅ Безусловно доверяю
- ✅ Скорее доверяю
- ❓ Затрудняюсь ответить
- ❌ Скорее не доверяю
- ❌❌ Безусловно не доверяю
In English, this translates to:
Please indicate if you trust or do not trust …?
- ✅✅ Unconditionally trust
- ✅ Probably trust
- ❓ Not sure
- ❌ Probably don’t trust
- ❌❌ Unconditionally don’t trust
WCIOM calls it the “closed trust in politicians poll”. It is closed because respondents are asked about specific politicians instead of proffering their own names. We also asked several demographic questions to help us perform subgroup analysis.
Results by politician
The chart below summarises “trust” in several politicians. Putin no doubt enjoys the greatest trust levels of those included in the poll. Percentages in parentheses show the Top 2 Box metric (sum of percentages for Unconditionally trust and Probably trust).
Yet, when we compare our results with WCIOM’s across five politicians, we see the greatest difference in Putin’s Top 2 Box (57% in our poll vs. 72% in WCIOM’s). This 15 p.p. difference varies dramatically from the 6 p.p. differences in Zhirinovskiy’s or Medvedev’s results.
Looking closer at subgroups, we observe greater support for Putin amongst active voters, women, younger, and more affluent people.
Correlation of relative trust scores
A correlation analysis of relative trust scores below suggests that those who trust Putin relatively stronger to other politicians may also trust Medvedev, Sobyanin, and Mishustin. Navalny is a clear opposite: Those who support Navalny (relatively stronger to other politicians) tend not to support Putin in the same way.
We invited residents of Russia aged 18 to 75 years old. 441 entered the survey, of which 407 completed it. Quality checks removed 35 answers due to inconsistencies of their stated demographics with previously self-reported panel profiling data, leaving us with a sample of 372.
Answers were weighted by age and gender to match the demographic composition across Russia as of 1 January 2019, as published by the Russian Federal State Statistics Service. Our sample closely matched relative population sizes across all regions except for North Caucasus and the disputed Crimean Peninsula (leaving out <10% of population).
The survey was conducted on Sunday, 5 April 2020 and is compared to WCIOM’s results for the week of 30 March to 5 April 2020.
WCIOM’s sample size is much larger, giving their poll a narrow 1% margin of error. In our study, 95% confidence intervals for the Top 2 Box metrics are mostly 8 percentage points wide. Therefore, a margin of error of ±4 p.p. applies to total sample metrics and is wider for subgroups.
Respondents for our study came from several major online panels and completed the survey online (on desktops and mobile phones). WCIOM’s study is done via the phone.
Support for Putin as measured by trust is indeed strong in Russia, however, WCIOM’s numbers are likely an overstatement.