Zelensky’s popularity drops but support for the president remains majority

The President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky.

Volodymyr Zelensky’s popularity falls after the dismissal of the popular commander in chief Valeri Zaluzhni and amid the lack of good news from the front, while a majority supports the decision not to celebrate during the war the presidential elections, which should have taken place a week ago.

63% of Ukrainians continue to support Zelensky, according to a survey by the sociological group ‘Rating’ published this week, which represents a drop of almost 30 percentage points compared to February 2023, when 91% of those surveyed approved of his management.

The decline began last October, probably due to disappointment with the results of Ukraine’s summer counteroffensive, the president of the kyiv International Institute of Sociology, Volodímir Paniotto, tells media.

In his opinion, support for Zelensky fell by another five points in February, after the dismissal of Zaluzhni, who had become the embodiment of the early victories of the Ukrainian Army, gaining the trust of 94% of the population, according to Institute data.

Future developments will be determined by the situation on the battlefield, Paniotto believes.

“If nothing changes, support levels are likely to decline very slowly. But major losses or wins can quickly push them in either direction,” he explained.

But for now the majority of Ukrainians maintain “stable trust” in Zelensky, he stressed.

No elections during the war

The decision not to hold presidential elections has hardly sparked internal debate in Ukraine and Ukrainians are “very clearly against” holding elections in time of war, according to Paniotto.

The first round should have theoretically occurred a week ago, on March 31. But since martial law prevents elections from being held, they have been postponed.

“The vast majority, more than 80%, support this,” Paniotto says.

If the elections had been held, millions of Ukrainians would have been deprived of the opportunity to participate, meaning that the legitimacy of the elected president would have been less, not more, he argues.

Despite Russian attempts to use the lack of elections as evidence that Ukraine is sliding towards dictatorship, support for democracy has strengthened during the invasion, he also stresses.

A bomb crater in Kharkiv, northeastern Ukraine.

An indicator of the divergent trajectories of Russia and Ukraine in this regard are the opinions about the Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, the sociologist points out.

In 2014, before the Russian intervention in the Donbas and the annexation of Crimea, 23% of Ukrainians and 28% of Russians viewed Stalin positively, but the percentage has since fallen to 5% among the former while it has risen to 60% among the latter.

“I see no reason to believe that democracy is currently threatened in Ukraine,” Paniotto stressed.

No possibilities for “old politicians”

Clearly, Zelensky takes sociological factors into account when making political decisions, the president of the International Institute of Sociology also indicated.

“It likely took so long to remove Zaluzhni because he wanted to avoid creating a powerful political rival,” he said.

For now, Zaluzhni has shown no signs of wanting to get involved in politics and has accepted his appointment as ambassador to the United Kingdom.

However, to some extent political confrontation has re-emerged in Ukraine.

The mayor of kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, Zelensky’s old rival, warned in December in an interview with ‘Der Spiegel’ that Ukraine risks becoming like Russia, “where everything depends on the whims of one man,” in a thinly veiled criticism of the Ukrainian president.

Zelensky’s former main opponent, former President Petro Poroshenko, said this week in an interview with Al Jazeera that he would participate again in the next presidential election.

However, Paniotto believes that the “old politicians” do not have great electoral prospects; Support for Poroshenko is at most between 10 and 15%, “due to the lack of alternatives,” he said.

Politicians may try to attract popular figures from the volunteer or military sphere to their parties to increase their support. “By themselves, it does not seem that the ‘old politicians’ have any chance,” the sociologist stressed.