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SPP 335

Author: William Mishler and John P Willerton
Description: Having come to power on a wave of public enthusiasm, Boris Yeltsin's popularity fluctuated widely while declining substantially across the decade. By the time he resigned, Yeltsin's popular support had evaporated along with his political prestige among political elites. This paper assesses how exceptional Russian public opinion has been by comparing presidential popularity in Russia against Western models of political support for leaders. We test the model using time-series methods and monthly, aggregate data on presidential popularity in Russia across the whole of Yeltsin's presidency from mid-1991 through the end of 1999. Western models of executive popularity perform very well in explaining fluctuations in Yeltsin's popularity across his tenure. Much like Margaret Thatcher, one of the most unpopular but longest serving Prime Ministers in recent British history, Yeltsin was, for most of his tenure, a highly unpopular political leader who was able to rally public support at critical junctures. While Yeltsin's increasing unpopularity was partly a function of a string of policy failures, including especially the collapse of the economy and the stalemate in Chechnya, it also was substantially a product of growing public weariness with rule by executive decree and with Yeltsin's erratic behavior as reflected both in the increasing instability in the executive branch and in his continuing health problems. Although the details of the Russian case are unique, the dynamics of political support in Russia conform to general democratic patterns.

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CSPP School of Government & Public Policy U. of Strathclyde Glasgow G1 1XQ Scotland