guriev23_DMITRY SEREBRYAKOVAFP via Getty Images_putintv Dmitry Serebryakov/AFP via Getty Images

The Future of Putin’s Information Autocracy

Despite anemic GDP growth and stagnant real incomes, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s approval rating remains high, with polls indicating that 61% of Russians evaluate his performance positively. But his popular support is diminishing, along with his capacity to control the information people receive.

PARIS – From Hitler to Stalin, and from Mussolini to Mao, the world’s twentieth-century dictators took to heart Niccolò Machiavelli’s famous dictum that “it is better to be feared than loved.” Yet most modern dictators seem more concerned about maintaining their people’s loyalty not by giving them what they want, but by manipulating them into thinking they already have it. Nobody executes this approach more masterfully than Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Though Putin’s approval ratings have declined considerably in recent years, they remain high, with polls indicating that 61% of Russians evaluate his performance positively. If a presidential election were held today, 44% would vote for Putin. No other candidate would receive double-digit support.

Putin certainly does not owe his popularity to his economic leadership. Since recapturing the presidency in 2012, he has consistently failed to deliver on promises of reform, higher productivity and investment, and improvements in Russians’ standard of living. And his government does not seem to have any plan to kick-start stagnant GDP growth.

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