Putin's popularity takes a hit ahead of vote: polls
Vladimir Putin's approval ratings have declined to historic lows, polls showed Friday, as liberal media suggested the powerful prime minister was growing out of touch after Russia was swept by protests.
The day earlier Putin gave one of his trademark strongman performances at his annual phone-in with Russians, making light of the rallies and joking that he mistook the white ribbons on protesters' lapels for condoms.
Liberal media said that despite visible efforts to present to the Russians a newer, more democratic version of himself, the 4 1/2-hour phone-in only exposed a gap between society's expectations and Putin's inability to change tack.
"His style looked outdated and jokes not funny," Vedomosti business daily said in an editorial. "Comparisons of the white ribbons to condoms and accusations of being paid to demonstrate were not pretty or smart."
Prominent commentator Mikhail Fishman added in the same newspaper: "Putin does not realise that the rising tide is largely directed against him personally."
"Therefore, the political crisis based around his figure will be accelerating -- and pretty fast," he wrote.
The opposition and observers say Putin's ruling United Russia party cheated its way to a slim majority in parliamentary polls this month, with public anger culminating in a series of mass protests across the country last weekend.
Over 24,000 people have already said on Facebook they are attending a new protest on December 24, an uncomfortable prospect for Putin as he heads into his campaign to return to the Kremlin in March presidential elections.
The most recent polls showed Putin's popularity has taken such a dive he will not be able to secure victory in the first round.
Putin will win only 42 percent in the first round of the March presidential elections, for the first time needing a second round against his Communist challenger, said a poll by the state-controlled All Russian Public Opinion Centre (VTsIOM).
Such a rating would mark a serious erosion in his once invincible support which in his last presidential election victory in 2004 saw him win over 70 percent of the vote.
However his nearest rival Gennady Zyuganov is still lagging far behind on 11 percent, leaving Putin almost certain of victory in the second round.
In another poll quoted in Russian media by the Fund of Public Opionion (FOM), 44 percent of people said that they had complete trust in Putin, compared to 46 percent in the previous month.
The Russian blogosphere, which has been the centre of the protest movement, reacted with indignation to Putin's phone-in, with one blogger saying every new interview of Russia's leaders was being met with an increasing "feeling of disgust."
"How long will this circus last?" said the person on LiveJournal, one of Russia's most popular blogging sites, identifying himself as vital_g.
Bloggers also immediately derided Putin's eyebrow-raising comparisons of the recent opposition demonstrations to an anti-AIDS campaign.
One new slogan posted on LiveJournal features Putin next to a symbol of anti-government demonstrations -- the white ribbon which he compared to "contraceptives" and reads:
"Citizens of Russia, use white ribbons, protect yourself from Putin and vote falsification."
© 2011 AFP