- Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's approval rating fell to its lowest level in more than a decade and support for his ruling party dropped sharply, a month before a parliamentary election, opinion poll results released on Monday indicated.
The Levada Center poll results indicate the United Russia party could fail to maintain its two-thirds majority in the State Duma lower parliament house after a December 4 election.
That election will be followed by a presidential vote in March in which Putin intends to return to the presidency he held from 2000-2008.
With 61 percent of respondents expressing approval for Putin's actions as prime minister, the October 28-November 1 poll suggests Putin will have little trouble carrying out his plan to return to the Kremlin.
But his approval rating, down from 66 percent in a Levada poll conducted October 21-24, was the lowest since August 2000, when he was dogged by the botched reaction to a naval disaster that killed all 118 crewmen aboard the submarine Kursk.
His party's support level dropped more drastically, with 51 percent of respondents who plan to vote in the Duma election saying they would vote for United Russia if it were held on the following Sunday -- down from 60 percent the previous week.
President Dmitry Medvedev's approval rating also fell sharply, to 57 percent from 62 percent the previous week.
Levada Deputy Director Alexei Grazhdankin said the declines may be a delayed reaction after Putin and Medvedev revealed on September 24 that they plan to swap jobs next year, with Putin running for president and making Medvedev prime minister.
The announcement of the plan deepened feelings of disenfranchisement among Russians who believe they have no voice in a system dominated by Putin -- who would be president until 2024 if he serves two more terms -- and United Russia.
United Russia has said it hopes to retain its two-thirds majority, the minimum needed to approve constitutional change.
But Levada said the latest results indicated it would likely win no more than 60 percent of the seats, with the exact proportion depending on how many parties secure Duma seats.
United Russia won 64 percent of the vote in the last election in 2007, more than enough for a two-thirds majority in the 450-seat chamber Putin has used as both a source of political support and a lever to enact legislation.
Putin has always been more popular than United Russia, and while he is its leader he has never formally joined the party.
Putin helped United Russia by leading its candidate list in the 2007 election but has relegated that role to Medvedev in the December vote -- a move analysts say is calculated to avoid damage to himself if the party posts a poor showing.
Levada said the polls of about 1,600 adults across Russia had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Political analyst Mikhail Vinogradov said the leaders would have a hard time getting their numbers back up. "We can see that they are unable to overcome the fatigue that people feel about politics, about those in power and about United Russia.