The Biden administration’s response to the Ukraine crisis has sparked a myriad of responses among Americans. It is by far the largest global crisis that Biden has had to face since the start of his presidency. Recent opinion polls conducted by Gallup, the Washington Post, and AP-NORC at the University of Chicago have noted ten key trends in Americans’ opinions concerning the Russian war in Ukraine. These include increasing interest in the escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine, growing concerns over Russia’s expanding influence, and intensified hostility and animosity towards Moscow and its foreign policy. The polls documented that most respondents agree on the importance of limited or secondary US involvement to resolve the Ukrainian crisis, as well as widespread support for imposing strict economic sanctions on Russia. In this case, there was also consensus between Democrats and Republicans on the severity of the crisis and their negative impression of the US’ waning strength under the Biden administration. At the same time, the respondents also displayed an evident lack of trust in the military and intelligence agencies. Lastly, the opinion polls highlighted the public’s divided outlook over NATO’s capability to contain the crisis in Ukraine.
After the outset of the Russo-Ukrainian War on February 24, the nations of the world had different reactions to and held various positions on the matter. The attack prompted analysts to speculate on potential solutions to the crisis, especially regarding the US’ integral role in these events. Much debate has been made over the current administration’s handling of the situation, raising key questions about Biden’s response in line with his previous policies and measures. Several discussions also revolved around how partisanship affected American public opinion, as well as how the Ukraine crisis impacted Biden’s popularity.
To answer these questions and understand the public’s views on the crisis, the findings of the aforementioned polls could be summarized along the following ten points:
1. Significant interest in escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine: In a poll by AP-NORC conducted between February 18-21 on a sample of US citizens, 46% of respondents said that they were closely following the military buildup on the Ukrainian borders, with 29% of them attaching minimal importance to the issue.
2. Widespread concerns over expanding Russian influence worldwide: 53% of respondents in the same survey stated that they are deeply concerned over increased Russian influence, citing it as one of the major risks to the US. This percentage had risen by 8% compared to 45% in last year’s survey, which was exacerbated by the Russian military buildup on Ukraine’s borders.
The Gallup poll revealed that 59% of US citizens believe that the Russian military constitutes the largest threat to vital American interests, the highest percentage since the question had been posed back in a 2014 survey. Some 72% of Republicans think that the Russian military poses a serious risk, while 64% of Democrats agree to the same. The current conflict has drastically changed public opinion since 2021, when only 44% of Republicans and 53% of Democrats viewed the Russian military as a serious threat.
3. Rising hostility and hatred towards Russia: In a survey by the Washington Post and ABC News conducted between February 20-24, 80% of Americans regarded Russia negatively and as unfriendly towards the US, with 45% of them going so far as to call Russia an enemy. These responses were similar to a survey conducted in 1987 during the Cold War, when 39% of Americans considered Russia as a foe.
4. US involvement to resolve the crisis: The AP-NORC survey showed that more than half of Americans (52%) believe that their country should have a limited or a secondary role in the Russo-Ukrainian War, with 26% thinking that the US should play a key role in the crisis and 20% saying that it should abstain from interfering.
5. Widespread support for economic sanctions against Russia: According to the Washington Post and ABC News survey, two-thirds of Americans (67%) support the US and its European allies imposing sanctions on Russia for its military actions in Ukraine, while 20% oppose such sanctions.
6. Convergence of Democrat and Republican viewpoints: Both Democrats and Republicans share similar views on the US role in the Russo-Ukrainian War, with 52% and 54%, respectively, believing that their nation should play a secondary role in the crisis. A majority of both also support economic sanctions against Russia (62% and 79%, respectively) and see Russia as a foe at relatively similar rates (47% and 40%, respectively).
7. Lack of trust in American military and intelligence: Confidence in the US military has declined from 53% in September 2020 to 42% in February 2022, while trust in US intelligence agencies stood at 23%, unchanged since the September 2020 survey.
8. Doubt in Biden vis-à-vis the crisis: The Washington Post survey indicates that 47% of Americans, 75% of Republicans, and 54% of independents do not approve of the Biden administration’s handling of the Russo-Ukrainian War. When asked whether Biden could be trusted to deal with this crisis, 52% of respondents said "no." Moreover, another survey conducted by Harvard’s Center for American Political Studies (CAPS) between February 23-24 showed that 64% of Americans think that Biden is "too lenient" with Russia.
9. Weakened American leadership under Biden: The Washington Post poll showed that 48% of Americans believe that US leadership has become weaker under the Biden administration. According to the CAPS survey, 62% of respondents said that Trump would have deterred Putin from military action in Ukraine, while 59% said that Putin had invaded Ukraine as a result of Biden’s weakness.
10. Divisions over NATO’s ability to resolve the Ukrainian crisis: According to the Gallup poll, Americans are divided in their views over whether NATO is successfully fulfilling its responsibilities. 48% stated that NATO was doing a good job, while 45% said that they are failing in their objectives. A vast majority of Americans support NATO, with 65% approving the US’ continued presence in the transatlantic alliance, while 33% believe that the US should decrease its commitment to or withdraw from NATO altogether. Republicans and Democrats are divided in their views on the utility and function of the alliance. 70% of Democrats think NATO is doing a good job in resolving conflicts, while only 27% of Republicans agreed to the same.
Biden’s CrisesThe Russian invasion of Ukraine marks another challenge to a Biden Administration already weary from other crises, such as COVID-19 variants, its chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan, and mounting economic pressures. As Biden and the Democrats’ approval rating drops to 38% this year, his next steps in handling the Russo-Ukrainian war will make or break his party in the upcoming midterm elections. According to an NPR-Marist survey, 56% of Americans said that the first year of Biden’s presidency was a failure. As such, the current crisis could represent a windfall for Republicans in the midterms, especially as it has brought former President Donald Trump back to center stage in public discourse over how he might have dealt with Russia.