As the war in Ukraine grinds on, a full 63% of Americans now say they agree that Russian President Vladimir Putin “cannot remain in power,” according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll. Just 14% disagree. The rest (23%) are not sure.
In a country as divided as the U.S., that would be a striking level of consensus regardless of the subject — let alone one as controversial and consequential as regime change in Russia. As such, it underscores the degree to which the Russian invasion has transformed Putin into a pariah across the U.S. political spectrum.
At the same time, however, the survey of 1,618 U.S. adults, which was conducted from March 31 to April 4, also found that injecting President Biden into the equation significantly altered public sentiment — a reminder that partisan politics continues to shape and even distort views on the war.
Asked whether respondents agreed with an unattributed quote about Putin — “This man cannot remain in power” — 63% of those surveyed said they did.
But when Yahoo News and YouGov posed the question differently, asking whether “President Biden” was “right or wrong” to have said those words — which Biden did on March 26 — just 48% of Americans were willing to say the president was “right.”
Likewise, the number who said Biden was “wrong” (29%) was more than twice as high as the number who disagreed with his remark before it was attributed to him (14%).
Unsurprisingly, Republicans were responsible for most of this movement. Before Biden’s name was mentioned, Republicans agreed that Putin “cannot remain in power” by a 36-point margin (57% agree vs. 21% disagree). After the remark was attributed to the president, however, they insisted he was wrong by 9 points (46% wrong vs. 37% right).
Not all of this reflects pure partisanship; Democrats were also more inclined to agree with Biden’s unattributed remark (83%) than to believe he was right to say it (70%), suggesting that at least some respondents saw the episode as a strategic misstep for a president.
The White House, after all, quickly rushed to clarify that Biden was not advocating for regime change in Russia.
"The President's point was that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region," a White House spokesman said in a written statement. "He was not discussing Putin's power in Russia, or regime change."
Biden himself later characterized his own words as a “personal feeling” of “moral outrage” rather than an administration policy of “taking down” the Russian leader.
The high level of initial support in the Yahoo News/YouGov poll for Putin's not “remain[ing] in power” also does not mean that Americans necessarily want to engage in the kind of conflict that would force him out. A previous Yahoo News/YouGov survey, for instance, found that Americans went from favoring to opposing a “no-fly zone” over Ukraine once they were told it means “the U.S. military would shoot down Russian military planes … possibly triggering a war between the U.S. and Russia.”
Yet the new poll results do hint at the challenges ahead for Biden as he tries to rally Americans around his approach to the war.
Overall, Biden's approval rating for handling "the situation with Russia and Ukraine" has steadily climbed since the start of the invasion, from 34% in late February to 39% in mid-March to 41% today.
Similarly, 71% of Americans said in mid-March that they were “very” or “somewhat” worried about gas prices rising as a result of the Russian invasion. That number has since fallen to 64%, with the share who say they’re very worried down from 44% to 31%.
Despite this modest progress, however, more Americans still disapprove (46%) than approve (41%) of how Biden has handled the war, including 78% of Republicans and 52% of independents. In fact, Biden’s overall job approval rating has actually declined from 42% in February to 39% today. His disapproval rating has held steady at 53%.
In part, that’s because Republicans remain resolutely opposed to Biden’s approach — regardless of what that approach is. Today, more Donald Trump voters say that Biden’s sanctions on Russia have not been “tough enough” (48%) and that the administration has not provided “enough” military assistance to Ukraine (44%) than say otherwise. An even greater number (59%) characterize the president’s whole approach to the conflict as “not tough enough.”
Yet before Russia’s invasion in February, a plurality of Trump voters told Yahoo News and YouGov that the conflict was “none of America’s business” and that the U.S. should take neither Ukraine's nor Russia’s side in the clash.
As a result, Americans overall are more likely to say Biden’s approach has been “not tough enough” (35%) than “about right” (33%) or “too tough” (6%). More Americans also say they would prefer a full Russian defeat (59%) than said the same last month (55%). Even among Democrats, just 57% say the president’s overall approach has been “about right” — and only 35% say the same about his approach to sanctions.
It’s unclear what other options are available to U.S. policymakers at this point. But in a country where 63% of the public has come to feel that Putin “cannot remain in power,” the longer the conflict persists — and the more unsatisfying its possible resolutions become — the harder it may be for Biden to convince even less partisan Americans that there was nothing he could have done differently.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,618 U.S. adults interviewed online from March 31 to April 4, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Bureau of the Census, as well as 2020 presidential vote (or nonvote) and voter registration status. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. adults. The margin of error is approximately 2.7%.