MOSCOW Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's approval rating fell in March to the lowest level since mid 2005 on perceptions of economic stagnation a year before Russia's presidential vote, the Levada-Center pollster said on Thursday.
Putin remains Russia's most popular politician but his rating fell to 69 percent from 73 percent in February while President Dmitry Medvedev's rating fell to 66, the lowest since he took office in 2008, from 69 percent.
The declines in approval are likely to perturb the Kremlin's political managers ahead of the March 2012 presidential election. Putin and Medvedev have said they will decide later this year on which of them will stand in the election.
Levada-Center's deputy director, Alexei Grazhdankin, said the poll ratings were falling on perceptions that vast revenues from high oil prices were not reaching the population and that Russia's leadership lacked ambitious economic aims.
"The state's revenue from high oil prices is growing, but this does not reach the population," Grazhdankin told Reuters.
"Putin promised in his time to double GDP but now there are no aims at all. We have come out of the crisis but there is no feeling that life is improving," he said.
Russia's economy returned to growth last year after the economic crisis tested public confidence in Putin's boasts that he brought economic stability to Russia.
Putin and Medvedev are by far the most popular politicians in Russia and their ratings remain high by Western European standards, but such sharp falls ahead of the elections may worry the Kremlin, given the unrest across in the Arab world.
"It is the lowest level since mid-2005" for Putin, Grazhdankin said, adding that Putin's popularity fell in mid-2005 because of an initiative to cut social spending.
"Medvedev's rating has never been so low."
As president from 2000 to 2008, Putin crafted a tightly controlled political system which gives the authorities vast resources to influence public opinion, and the ruling party beat out its rivals in 12 regional votes this month.
Neither Medvedev, 45, nor Putin, 58, have said whether they will run in the presidential election, though both men are honing their images, promising to increase wages and fight price rises.
Polls show price rises are by far Russians' biggest worry, concerning nearly two-thirds of the population, though high oil prices and spending increases ahead of the election are complicating the attempts to fight inflation.
The Levada poll showed on Thursday that 42 percent of Russians believed the country was going in the wrong direction, 40 percent believed it was going in the right direction and 18 percent could not say.
It also showed the ruling party's rating fell in March.
Levada, Russia's leading independent pollster, asked the opinions of 1,600 people in 45 different regions on March 18-22. The margin of error was no bigger than 3.4 percent.
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alexei Anishchuk, editing by Steve Gutterman)