#1 Vladimir Putin's Popularity among Radical Right Voters in Western Europe
Were Voters as Much in Love with Putin as their Elites?
We know that a number of radical right parties in Western Europe have developed substantial links with the Russian government over the years. This has notably been the case of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National (who got a loan with a Russian bank connected to the Kremlin in 2014, which after the bankruptcy of said bank ended up with an airplane parts company active in Syria), Thierry Baudet’s Forum for Democracy (who was in touch with a low-level operative from the Donbas funded by Gazprom in the run-up to the 2014 EU-Ukraine referendum) in the Netherlands, or Italy’s Matteo Salvini, who engaged in dodgy deals to funnel Russian money to his Lega party. Party elites have consistently championed accommodating positions towards Russia in relation to Ukraine and NATO.
It seems that these kinds of links have become a bit toxic domestically now that Russia has decided to invade Ukraine. In the aftermath of the invasion and amidst the french presidential campaign, Le Pen is said to have binned more than a million leaflets featuring a picture of her shaking hands with the Russian president.
Now if we know that the elites of these parties liked Vladimir Putin very much, how popular has he been with the voters of these parties? Are voters of radical right parties also more likely to express confidence in Putin than other voters? The Pew Research Center Global Attitudes Survey periodically asks respondents in 16 countries about their views on a number of global issues, and notably their trust in global leaders, including Putin. The last available wave of this survey was conducted in 2021. It will be interesting to see how these attitudes evolve in the aftermath of the war.
This dataset has data on party identification, so it is possible to compare voters of radical right parties with those of other parties. In this analysis, I included 9 Western European countries with radical right parties: Belgium (Vlaams Belang), France (Rassemblement National), Germany (Alternative für Deutschland), Greece (EL & LAOS), Italy (Lega and Fratelli d’Italia), Netherlands (PVV and FvD), Spain (Vox), Sweden (SD), and the United Kingdom (Ukip and the Reform Party). The question measuring trust in Vladimir Putin is worded as follows:
“Now I’m going to read a list of political leaders. For each, tell me how much confidence you have in each leader to do the right thing regarding world affairs – a lot of confidence, some confidence, not too much confidence, or no confidence at all”.
The leaders included Xi Jinping, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, Jo Biden and Vladimir Putin. In the data, I have recoded respondents in two groups (voters of radical right parties vs. other respondents) and recoded confidence in Putin as a binary variable (individuals expressing “some” or “a lot of confidence” in Putin get a 1, others 0). The results are shown in Figure 1 below, the graph shows estimates of the proportion of voters expressing confidence in Vladimir Putin (these are 95% confidence intervals).
What can we see? For all the countries, radical right voters are almost 3 times more likely than other voters to express confidence in Vladimir Putin. Looking specifically at countries, in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden, voters of radical right parties express more positive views of Vladimir Putin on average than voters of other parties, while in Greece, France and the UK this cannot be proven using conventional significance standards. The difference between radical right and non-radical-right voters is especially strong in Germany, where the voters of the AfD are the most Putinophile of all the countries analysed: between 72 and 97% of AfD voters express confidence in Putin while this share ranges from 25 to 31% among German voters of other parties. The difference is also significant in Italy, where voters of the Lega and Fratelli d’Italia were much more likely than the average Italian voter to express some level of confidence in Putin. We cannot say that this is the case in the UK, but the number of radical right voters in the sample (Reform Party and UKIP) is very small (15 individuals). We cannot support this claim based on the data for France either; the confidence interval is quite large. Note the generally high level of confidence in Vladimir Putin in Greece across the political spectrum. In 2021, Greek respondents were the most confident in Europe about Putin “doing the right thing in world affairs”.
Because this survey also includes a measure of left-right placement, we can also look at how the likelihood to express confidence in Putin is related to ideological self-positioning. This is interesting because some commentators, in the aftermath of the Russian invasion, have mentioned something akin to a “horseshoe theory of Putin support”, highlighting how Putin apologists had included parties on the far right, but also on the far left (e.g Die Linke in Germany, the Portuguese Communist party, Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s La France Insoumise). The graph below shows the predictive margins of a logstic regression run on 9 countries (9’099 individuals), controlling for gender, age and country fixed-effects. We can see that individuals that place themselves on the far-left of the political spectrum tend to have higher levels of confidence in Putin than the centre-left, but Putinophilia increases essentially as one moves further to the right of the political spectrum. The individuals most likely to express confidence in Vladimir Putin were those on the extreme right.
Alexandre, thanks for sharing your insights. How would the numbers change, if you would assign values of -1, -0.5, 0.5 and 1 to the four categories? Treating "some" and "a lot" the same (1) seems like a strange decision to me. Furthermore, the dataset link only leads to a PEW article that does not seem to yield the partisan data that you have processed. Can you please guide me more specifically to the used data? Is there maybe even a git repo that you would want to share?