Presidential Popularity in a Hybrid Regime: Russia under Yeltsin and Putin


  • I thank Yevgenia Albats, Robert Erikson, Lev Freinkman, Tim Frye, Scott Gehlbach, Vladimir Gimpelson, Patrik Guggenberger, Sergei Guriev, Arnold Harberger, John Huber, Rostislav Kapelyushnikov, Matthew Lebo, Grigore Pop-Eleches, Brian Richter, Richard Rose, Jim Snyder, Konstantin Sonin, Stephen Thompson, Jeff Timmons, Josh Tucker, Andrei Yakovlev, Alexei Yudin, Katya Zhuravskaya, and other participants in seminars at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, and Columbia University, as well as the editor and three anonymous referees for comments or helpful suggestions, and the UCLA College of Letters and Science for research support.

Daniel Treisman is Professor of Political Science, University of California, Los Angeles, 4289 Bunche Hall, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1472 (


In liberal democracies, the approval ratings of political leaders have been shown to track citizens’ perceptions of the state of the economy. By contrast, in illiberal democracies and competitive autocracies, leaders are often thought to boost their popularity by exploiting nationalism, exaggerating external threats, and manipulating the media. Using time-series data, I examine the determinants of presidential approval in Russia since 1991, a period in which leaders’ ratings swung between extremes. I find that Yeltsin's and Putin's ratings were, in fact, closely linked to public perceptions of economic performance, which, in turn, reflected objective economic indicators. Although media manipulation, wars, terrorist attacks, and other events also mattered, Putin's unprecedented popularity and the decline in Yeltsin's are well explained by the contrasting economic circumstances over which each presided.