Yet another oft-repeated Western trope about Russian politics is that Putin has “lost the middle classes” (Brian Whitmore, paging Kudrin), that it is liberals who speak for the middle class (Fred Weir), or even that it is not just the middle class who are against Putin but the masses too (Masha Gessen).
Let’s look at some numbers, figures, statistics, etc.
Putin appears to be as popular as ever. After reaching a multi-year of 63% approval in December 2011, he is now back at his typical 69% (Levada). Another poll indicates that 52% of its respondents would vote for Putin if elections were held tomorrow, compared with 9% for Zyuganov, 7% for Zhirinovsky, and 6% for Prokhorov (FOM). Likewise United Russia remains by far the most popular party, at 44% versus the second place Communists with 12%, despite the propaganda against it and well-publicized recent electoral losses in a few cities. So obviously there is no “mass movement” against Putin.
Now what about the more minimal form of this argument, that while Putin might retain support among blue-color workers (disparaged as uneducated, unenlightened, etc) the middle classes have deserted him?
But in that case, why did a plurality of even the richest Muscovites vote for Putin?
The graph above shows that whereas it is true that Putin becomes less popular as you move into more expensive areas of the city, the lines never converge. There is not a single area of Moscow in which Prokhorov, the liberal candidate, scores better than Putin. Note further that Moscow is the most oppositional region in Russia and the scene of 75%+ of all the recent protests against Putin.
Could anyone please explain what how anyone could possibly, honestly argue, in light of the evidence above, that the middle class is “lost” to Putin?
One can certainly argue that the pillars of Putin’s support has shifted from the middle class to the blue-collar heartlands. One can also argue that some sections of the middle class – such as the young, those who go to elite universities, and various cultural/occupational subgroups such as hipsters and journalists – are indeed more against Putin than for him. However, these people do not constitute the middle class. They are an even narrower slice of Russian society.