Putin's rating dips to low, but poll shows rising support for extending rule

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating has slipped to its lowest level in more than two decades amid the coronavirus crisis, even as support for his plan to extend his rule for years ahead has risen, a poll showed on Wednesday.

The poll, by the Levada-Center, showed Putin’s support fell to 59% in April, from 63% in March. It was the worst result for Putin recorded by Levada since September 1999 when Putin was a rookie prime minister with a 53% approval rating.

However, support for his plan to change the constitution to allow him to extend his rule until 2036 rose to 47 percent in April, up from 40 percent in March. A nationwide vote on the proposed change, scheduled for last month but delayed because of the virus outbreak, is now expected later this year.

Putin’s approval rating is still very high by Western standards, and there is no sign that the man who has dominated Russian politics as president or prime minister for more than 20 years and survived many crises, is about to be toppled.

Economic and social fallout from the coronavirus crisis is causing problems for him though, as the number of cases continues to sharply rise, oil prices remain historically low and a lockdown poisons the economy and people’s livelihoods.

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by more than 10,000 on Wednesday for a fourth consecutive day and now stands at 165,929, though at 1,537 the death toll remains far lower than in many other countries.

The poll was conducted by phone because of the coronavirus-related lockdown, rather than face-to-face, which Levada’s Deputy Director Denis Volkov said may have clipped 1-2% off Putin’s approval rating.

Even taking that into account, Volkov said an outcome of 61% would still mean Putin’s rating was on a par with 2013, a year before Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea prompted his ratings to surge.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov cast doubt on the poll.

“I’m not inclined to entirely trust Levada’s polls,” Peskov told reporters. “There are other polls which give a different picture.” A survey from state-run pollster VTsIOM gave Putin a trust rating of 69.8% in April.

Among those who said they intended to take part in the vote on constitutional change, 58 percent said they would back the changes and only 25 percent vote against them.

“What is important is that those that are ‘for’ are very well mobilised and are ready to come (and vote),” said Volkov.

Levada said the survey was conducted on April 24-27 and that 1,608 people had been polled across Russia.

Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow and Maxim Rodionov; Editing by Peter Graff