President Biden’s approval rating for his handling of Russia and Ukraine has risen 5 percentage points since the start of the war in Eastern Europe more than two weeks ago, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — including a 12-point gain among self-described independent voters.
Yet spiraling gas prices, remote peace prospects and rampant U.S. partisanship make Biden’s hopes of a political turnaround seem tenuous at best.
The survey of 1,623 U.S. adults, which was conducted from March 10 to 14, found that as the invasion wears on — with almost hourly reports of new Russian atrocities and Ukrainian casualties — Americans are becoming increasingly appalled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions and increasingly aligned with the Biden administration’s response.
The percentage of respondents who now say Biden is doing “a better job leading his country” than Putin, for instance, climbed 7 points (from 33% to 40%), while the percentage who say Putin is doing a better job leading than Biden fell by roughly the same amount (from 19% to 10%) — a net swing of 16 points in Biden’s direction. This reflected both an increase in Democrats choosing Biden (from 68% to 80%) and a decrease in Republicans choosing Putin (from 36% to 19%), with a corresponding rise in Republicans choosing “neither” (from 46% to 63%).
Independents, meanwhile, went from evenly divided (22% Putin vs. 21% Biden) to picking the U.S. president as the better leader by a 3-1 margin (33% Biden vs. 10% Putin).
Overall, more Americans now believe that Biden’s response to Russia has either been “about right” (31%) or “too tough” (6%) than believe it has “not [been] tough enough” (34%), with the share saying the latter falling by 5 points over the last two weeks. That decline was similar among Republicans (down 6 points, from 58% to 52%), independents (down 6 points, from 44% to 38%) and Democrats (down 4 points, from 25% to 21%).
These gains might seem modest. Overall, just 39% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of “the situation with Russia and Ukraine” (up from 34% two weeks ago), while 48% still disapprove. And even though Biden’s approval on Russia and Ukraine among independents climbed by a dozen points, it’s still just 38%. More independents (44%) continue to say “neither” Biden nor Putin is doing a better job leading.
Yet political polarization renders broad consensus all but impossible in the U.S., so even small shifts can be significant. Republicans, for example, are loath to name Biden as a better leader than anyone — Putin included. But a 17-point swing from Biden to “neither” might signal a sort of grudging acceptance of the administration’s approach (as well as a dawning realization that Putin’s invasion isn’t going as planned).
Nowhere is this dynamic clearer than on the question of whether to establish a “no fly-zone” over Ukraine. For the past week, hawkish figures in the U.S. — including some Republican members of Congress — have pushed the administration to block Russian jets from entering Ukrainian airspace. When Yahoo News and YouGov asked half of respondents whether they support or oppose “U.S. troops enforcing a no-fly zone over Ukraine” — with no added context — supporters (40%) outnumbered opponents (25%), reflecting this impulse.
But those numbers changed dramatically when the other half of respondents were told a no-fly zone means “the U.S. military would shoot down Russian military planes flying over Ukraine, possibly triggering a war between the U.S. and Russia.” In that case, support plummeted by nearly half (to 23%) while opposition nearly doubled (to 43%) — and the biggest shift came among Republicans, who went from supporting a no-fly zone by a 22-point margin (48% to 26%), to opposing it by a 38-point margin (55% to 17%).
In other words, the public largely agrees with the Biden administration, which has consistently opposed a no-fly zone for this very reason, once the reasoning is made clear.
“The idea that we’re going to send in offensive equipment and have planes and tanks and trains going in with American pilots and American crews — just understand, don’t kid yourself, no matter what y’all say, that’s called World War III,” Biden told a gathering of House Democrats last week.
Rather than risk direct military conflict, the president is instead rallying allies to help fortify Ukraine and punish Putin. The new Yahoo News/YouGov poll suggests that support for this strategy has been steadily, if slowly, increasing.
Nearly 6 in 10 Americans (59%) now agree with Biden’s vow not to “send U.S. troops into Ukraine,” up from 56% two weeks ago. Instead, very large majorities support various steps the U.S. has already taken or is actively considering: “imposing severe sanctions on Russia” (65%), “sending weapons for Ukraine to use in its own defense” (61%) and “expelling Russia from the World Trade Organization” (58%). Narrower majorities also favor “helping Ukraine obtain more fighter jets” (54%), which the U.S. has attempted to do, and “imposing new taxes on Russian products sold in the U.S.” (53%), which the U.S. did last week. Only a small minority of Americans — between 14% and 19% — oppose any of these measures.
A separate question indicates that the number of Americans who want the U.S. to “send arms to Ukraine to use in its own defense” has increased by 7 points over the last two weeks.
Likewise, the percentage of Americans who feel strongly unfavorable toward Putin jumped 6 points over the last two weeks (from 59% to 65%), with similar increases among both Democrats (from 75% to 79%) and Republicans (from 53% to 57%). A full 80% of Americans now attribute either “some” or “a great deal” of blame to Russia for the situation in Ukraine, up from 77%. Support for Ukraine has also increased, with 61% of Americans now saying the U.S. should take Ukraine’s side over Russia, up from 57% two weeks ago. Just 3% say the opposite; 23% say neither.
Yet Biden shouldn't count on a sustained bounce. The problem is twofold.
First, most Americans now favor “a full Russian defeat” (55%) rather than “Russian control of separatist areas but an otherwise independent Ukraine” (17%) or “full Russian control of Ukraine” (4%). It’s unclear, however, whether “a full Russian defeat” is possible at this point, and a prolonged, bloody conflict — with a potentially muddled outcome — is unlikely to revive Biden’s political standing at home. While his approval on Russia and Ukraine has risen, his overall job-approval rating — a lackluster 41% approve, 53% disapprove — remains unchanged from two weeks ago.
Second, gas prices are hovering near record highs, and Americans have noticed. More than 4 in 5 (81%) say they have felt the impact of rising gas prices either “a lot” (45%) or “a little” (36%) — and the share who say they’re “very worried” that the Russian invasion will continue to make gas more expensive is up significantly, from 38% to 44%.
For now, just 30% of Americans say Biden is “most responsible” for the gas-price increase; combined, more blame Russia (19%) and oil and gas companies (23%). A similar number (33%) say Biden would be most responsible if prices continue to rise. Regardless, no president wants to enter election season with gas prices top of mind.
Predictably, far more Republicans hold Biden most responsible for rising gas prices (60%) than Russia (11%), oil and gas companies (6%) or others (11% total) — and far more Democrats blame either oil companies (38%) or Russia (19%) than Biden (8%) or others (10% total).
Yet even here, partisanship might be obscuring a certain level of consensus. When Yahoo News and YouGov asked half of respondents whether they support “banning the importation of Russian oil and natural gas into the United States,” 56% said yes. When the other half of respondents were asked the same question — but also told that it “may cause fuel prices to rise” — most (53%) still favored the ban.
The Biden administration blocked imports of Russian oil and natural gas last week.
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,623 U.S. adults interviewed online from March 10 to 14, 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%.