Russian President Vladimir Putin is leading a country that has seen the value of its ruble tank, losing more than half its value. And his aggression in Ukraine has turned Russia into an international pariah.
In the United States, signs point to the economy — a major influencer in a president’s approval ratings — being on the upswing, with weekly unemployment numbers dropping to the lowest level since late October.
But in Russia, people approve of Putin nearly twice as much as Americans approve of Obama.
An Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll released Thursday found that 81 percent of Russians still support him.
According to Gallup, Obama has the approval of 43 percent, which is virtually flat from December 2012 (42 percent) and down from 54 percent two years ago.
In one way, Putin can thank Obama for his extremely high support.
“The Russian people have a sense that they are under sanctions, they are a fortress under siege,” said Maria Lipman, an independent analyst. “This kind of mentality is disseminated consistently and steadily by Russian television: Who else is there to rely on except Putin? Putin is seen as the savior of the nation, and I think he sees himself in this fashion.”
The suppression of opposition politicians and independent media, widely criticized by outside observers, was tacitly accepted by many as a compromise worth making for economic stability after the roller coaster years of the 1990s.
“I very much support Putin — who else is there to support?” said Valentina Roshupkina, a 79-year-old resident of Gryaz, a town several hours’ drive south of Moscow. “The country is moving in the right direction, I believe, because he lifted up the army, he made the government stronger. People started to be a little bit afraid of us.”
But some question the data.
“There is a total, effective, monopolistic propaganda campaign, and if there is an information monopoly, how can you talk about ratings?” said Georgy Satarov, a former Kremlin adviser who heads a research institute that studies corruption.
CONTRIBUTING: ASSOCIATED PRESS