20 years under Putin: a timeline

This paper examines the long-term changes in political attitudes that may have contributed to the sudden emergence of middle-class protest activity in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia, during the 2011–2012 electoral cycle. It analyzes three interrelated hypotheses to address this question: the impact of the global financial crisis; attitudes about liberal-democratic concerns; and views on government effectiveness. These trends are examined using data drawn from responses to the survey question “What is the most important problem for the country?” in nine surveys conducted between March 2008 and March 2012. During this period, of increasing concern to middle-class groups were the following: corruption and red tape, standard of living, housing and utilities, healthcare, and education. The factor linking these issues together may be Russians’ dissatisfaction with their quality of life or with the pervasiveness of corruption in the country. The concerns of the middle class were not significantly different from those of the general population, but the middle class, and particularly residents of Moscow and St. Petersburg, were more critical when assessing all problems. Comparison with additional data demonstrates that participants in the 2011–2012 protests in major cities shared similar concerns with the general population, but for most, participation in the protests made them significantly more interested in democracy.