THE PRESIDENT’S COMPOSITE IMAGE & THE VOTER’S PORTRAIT


24.01.07
Moscow. (RIA Novosti commentator Andrei Kolesnikov)

A friend of mine who is a TV editor used to tell a well-known presenter not to eat or drink too much – “Your face is my salary.” Russian voters have a similar attitude to the face of their future president, some of whose distinguishing features Vladimir Putin evasively described in an interview with the Indian media: “In line with the Russian Constitution, this will be a Russian citizen over 35 years of age, who has permanently lived in Russia for no less than ten years.” The president also predicted that this person would continue pursuing Russia’s current policy.

A recent poll by the Public Opinion Foundation shows what the majority of Russians think on this score. Half of those polled are ready to vote for Putin; Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Zhirinovsky are the runners-up with 4% each. Gennady Zyuganov is frozen in place with 3%. The trust rating shows a similar picture with one minor difference – the national showman Zhirinovsky is 1 % ahead of the too serious-looking unofficial successor. To sum up, the future president’s composite image is Putin with the features of the happy-go-lucky Zhirinovsky, bureaucratically somber Medvedev, and streetwise Zyuganov. Also, this president deals with emergencies – Sergei Shoigu’s rating is 2 %.

And what is the portrait of a voter who will hear the future president say: “My face is your salary.” If we assume that Putin personally prefers to see Medvedev as his successor, we may think that their audiences are similar, but this is not the case. Strangely enough, they are supported by completely different groups of people. To be more precise, they have one common feature – there are many Putin’s supporters among those who like Medvedev. But men would like to see the latter in the presidential seat more than women, while Putin’s supporters are mostly women. The First Deputy Prime Minister enjoys support mostly with people aged between 36 and 54 (Putin has younger admirers). The incomes and education of Putin’s supporters are more even. Wealthy people with higher education favor Medvedev. He enjoys the highest support in Moscow and other big cities, and the least in the country. To the contrary, the country stands for Putin, whereas Moscow is not so enthusiastic about him
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We should, of course, take into consideration errors of sociological estimates, but the trends look realistic. At any rate, there is a simple truth in the fact that an educated and wealthy audience in its prime sees a correlation between its “salary” and Medvedev’s “face.”

The portrait of those who have voted for runners up – Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov – is also close to reality. Their supporters are similar in many respects – these people are not very educated, and have low (Zhirinovsky) or medium incomes (Zyuganov). They are mostly men and live in the country (the Communist leader is backed by small cities, while the Liberal Democratic boss has a low rating in Moscow).

Here is a difference of principle – Zhirinovsky’s conduct is mostly popular among the young – from 18 to 35 years. The combination of this feature with low incomes and poor education does not produce a very good audience. Zyuganov’s supporters are people aged 55 years or more. They do not trust Putin, whereas Zhirinovsky’s voters have some confidence in him.

Regrettably, it is impossible to portray the voters of Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov – he has a rating of 1 %, and the only meaningful parameter, which goes beyond negligible figures, is that he is supported by people with college education.

In other words, we have all kind of voters. Given the support for the current president, his opinion will be decisive in choosing a candidate with the right to tell the electorate “My face is your salary.” This is the only possibility in a situation where Putin continues to have a teflon-coated rating (although it is no longer a rating of hopes, but a rating of habit and indifference to politics). If Putin has his say, the audience of voters for his successor may considerably change. It will become more similar to the parameters of Putin’s supporters, who make enough money, are educated, and evenly distributed across Russia. -0-