- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 3, 2001

An odd item for President Clinton's legacy bin, or just proof that the political landscape is quirky the world over?

Mr. Clinton has been voted second-most-popular man in Russia, according to a poll released yesterday from the All-Russia Polls Institute in Moscow.

He is outranked only by President Vladimir Putin, who was proclaimed "Person of the Year" in the poll of 1,600 Russians.

Mr. Clinton had competition, though. He tied for second place with Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, who won 29 percent of the national vote during the country's presidential election in March.

Granted, the two placed a very distant second to the Russian president. In the popularity poll, Mr. Putin garnered 38 percent of the vote, while Mr. Clinton and Mr. Zyuganov got just 4 percent each.

The whole thing has survey director Yuri Levada a little nervous. A sociologist, Mr. Levada has been plumbing the Russian political consciousness for a decade.

"This highlights a very important feature of our social-political scene," he said during a television appearance yesterday. "We have no one else. There is only one figure on our chess board, without any alternatives, rivals or close comrades-at-arms."

Mr. Levada called it "entrenched solitude" and suggested that "it makes a leader hugely dependent on opinions about him, and on expressions of mass support."

Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, meanwhile, was voted Woman of the Year in the poll, followed by "actresses, singers and so on," Mr. Levada said. "Women politicians are very rare; you just do not see them."

The survey also found that Russians were most concerned about terrorism, followed by drug abuse and the threat of AIDS.

In the meantime, Moscow-based pollsters have gotten deft indeed these days, often revealing unusual but telling details.

The Romir Research Group, a public opinion and marketing company that has shared its data with Gallup, Harris and Roper Starch, among others, asked 2,000 people to name "what kind of shortcomings Russians would not mind in candidates for presidency," shortly before last year's elections.

Respondents could best tolerate an "unattractive appearance," followed by "lack of charm," "unhealthy habits," a reserved manner, "old age" or "sickness."

Just under 4 percent, though, said they would tolerate "selfishness," while 2 percent would put up with "irresoluteness." Just under 2 percent would tolerate "inability to collect a good team" or "passivity." Just over 1 percent would tolerate "incompetence" and 1 percent "dishonesty."

Other Romir polls put Mr. Putin's popularity numbers at 20 percent and revealed Russian attitudes about American politicians. Fifteen percent said Al Gore most suited "Russia's national interest." Just under 16 percent felt the same about George W. Bush.

Forty-six percent said that the election of either man "makes no difference."

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