Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Buying Support? Putin’s Popularity and the Russian Welfare State
Buying Support? Putin’s Popularity and the Russian Welfare State

Buying Support? Putin’s Popularity and the Russian Welfare State

Buying Support? Putin’s Popularity and the Russian Welfare State is the second of a series of reports in the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s Russia Political Economy Project. To learn more about this initiative, click here. To download the report, click here.

Executive Summary

As Western media focus on the more sensational aspects of Russian domestic and foreign policy, this report argues that the often overlooked arena of social policy—i.e., pensions, education, and healthcare—lends important insights into the nature of the Russian regime and its outlook on the future. This essay traces the regime’s use of pension, education, and healthcare policy promises to bolster support in the lead up to presidential elections and examines Putin’s record on implementing these promises, but this record is mixed. While pensions have been boosted before each election since 1996 and the government has avoided raising Russia’s relatively low retirement ages (55 for women and 60 for men), the regime has failed to make the critical improvements in education and healthcare promised over the years. That is, Putin has utilized social policy to bolster regime support by fulfilling promises that appease key electoral groups—for instance, the elderly—but do not necessarily increase the general welfare of average Russians. In the current political climate, Russian citizens seem largely willing to accept this deal. Nonetheless, declining living standards, a stagnating economy, and continuing corruption scandals may begin to erode this arrangement. Lower turnout and a decreased margin of victory in the upcoming 2018 presidential election could be the first signs that the public has grown weary of Putin’s lackluster delivery on his numerous social promises.

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