In the opening days of the war in Ukraine, the fractious American public is remarkably united in opposition to Russia’s invasion, with 74 percent saying the breach is not justified and 76 percent expressing an unfavorable opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
Yet in a striking sign of how deep partisanship continues to run in the U.S., just 3 percent of 2020 Donald Trump voters are willing to say President Biden is “doing a better job leading his country” than Putin. Nearly half (47 percent) of Trump voters say Putin is doing a better job than Biden, even as Russia’s economy threatens to collapse under the weight of crippling global sanctions. A slightly smaller share of Trump voters (45 percent) say “neither” man is doing a better job than the other.
More Trump voters also express an unfavorable opinion of Biden (95 percent) than of Putin (78 percent) — with a full 87 percent saying they have a “very” unfavorable opinion of the U.S. president versus just 60 percent who say the same about his Russian counterpart.
The poll of 1,532 U.S. adults, which was conducted online from Feb. 24 to 27, sheds light on how sharply domestic opinion has shifted toward Ukraine since Putin launched his onslaught — especially among Republicans. At the same time, it reveals how reluctant many of those same Americans are to credit Biden for his response.
Three weeks ago, Americans were more likely to say the U.S. should remain neutral (49 percent) than side with Ukraine (46 percent); today, they’re more than twice as likely to want the U.S. to side with Ukraine (57 percent) as to stay out of it (25 percent). Republican opinion has shifted the most, from 8 points in favor of neutrality earlier this month to 34 points in favor of siding with Ukraine.
Likewise, a plurality of Republicans now say “it’s in America’s best interests to stop Russia and help Ukraine” (44 percent), while fewer insist “the conflict is none of America’s business” (30 percent). Three weeks ago, Republicans were more likely to say the latter (41 percent) than the former (39 percent). A substantial majority of Democrats continue to say that stopping Russia and helping Ukraine is in America’s best interests (63 percent, up from 55 percent).
Americans also tend to agree on how the administration should be responding, with 56 percent saying they favor last week’s “major sanctions” designed to “cut off Russia’s government from Western banks and financial markets” — despite an explicit description that the sanctions were “imposed” by Biden. Unsurprisingly, 72 percent of Democrats favor Biden’s sanctions; just 6 percent oppose them. But the same sanctions also win the support of most Republicans (53 percent), with very little outright opposition (11 percent). Three weeks ago, just 40 percent of Republicans said they wanted the U.S. to “implement severe economic sanctions to counter an invasion.”
A clear majority of Americans (56 percent) agree, too, with Biden’s vow “not to send U.S. troops into Ukraine”; only 15 percent disagree. Even more (62 percent) want to see the U.S. continue to take action in response to the Russian invasion, either in the form of “more economic sanctions” (33 percent), “military force” (3 percent) or both (26 percent). Just 13 percent, meanwhile, prefer neither sanctions nor military force.
Yet in spite of this consensus, just a third of Americans (34 percent) say they approve of how Biden is handling “the situation with Russia and Ukraine.” Nearly half (48 percent) disapprove, and 17 percent are not sure. That’s roughly in line with Biden’s overall job-approval rating (41 percent approve, 53 percent disapprove) as well as the rating for his “foreign policy” more broadly (36 percent approve, 49 percent disapprove) — neither of which has fluctuated much in recent polls.
By the same token, just 28 percent of Americans say Biden’s response to the situation with Russia and Ukraine has been “about right” — while more say his response has been “not tough enough” (39 percent).
Partisanship largely explains the gap between agreement with Biden’s actions and approval of his leadership. Nearly 9 in 10 Trump voters (89 percent) say they disapprove of how Biden is handling the Russia-Ukraine situation. More than two-thirds (67 percent) say his response has not been tough enough. About the same number (68 percent) agree with Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz that “Europe is on the verge of war because of the weakness, the fecklessness of Joe Biden.” And on the question of who is a “stronger leader,” Republicans and independents who lean Republican continue to choose Putin (66 percent) over Biden (4 percent).
Yet even now, Republicans remain less likely than Democrats to support strong measures in response to Putin’s actions, such as implementing “severe economic sanctions to counter the invasion” (62 percent of Democrats vs. 49 percent of Republicans); sending “arms to Ukraine to use in its own defense” (46 percent vs. 35 percent); sending “troops to the region to bolster defenses, but not Ukraine” (31 percent vs. 19 percent); or “sending troops to the region to bolster defenses, including to Ukraine” (24 percent vs. 17 percent).
This contradiction is unlikely to resolve itself anytime soon. Consider the fact that even among the Republicans and Republican leaners who choose Putin as a stronger leader than Biden, 76 percent rate Putin unfavorably, 69 percent disapprove of the job he is doing as president of Russia and 75 percent consider his invasion unjustified. It’s not that Republicans like Putin. They’ve just made up their minds about Biden.
Overall, however, the vast majority of Americans (72 percent) say Putin is “most responsible” for the situation in Ukraine. Just 11 percent say Biden, followed by the Ukrainian government at 8 percent, NATO at 4 percent and Trump at 4 percent.
It remains to be seen what happens next — and how Americans respond. The public is certainly paying attention, with more than two-thirds (70 percent) saying they’re following the news from Ukraine at least “somewhat closely” — including 30 percent who say they’re following “very closely.” Consistent with those numbers, nearly all Americans (86 percent) say the situation with Russia and Ukraine is “very” (54 percent) or “somewhat” important (32 percent); most now say the clash “threatens a much larger European war” (57 percent) rather than being “just a conflict between Russia and Ukraine” (20 percent). Similarly, 69 percent are at least somewhat worried (and 38 percent are very worried) that the invasion “might cause gasoline prices to rise in the U.S.”
Going forward, the war is likely to remain top of mind. When given a list of nine issues to choose from, the same number of Americans now say Russia and Ukraine should be Biden’s top priority (23 percent) as say “inflation” (23 percent). Immigration ranks third at 12 percent, with COVID-19 and health care tied for a distant fourth at 7 percent each.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,532 U.S. adults interviewed online from Feb. 24 to 27, 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 percent.