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Americans Are Still Unsure How The U.S. Should Respond To The Invasion Of Ukraine

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.


The ongoing war in Ukraine appears to have Americans in a bind: While roughly half of U.S. adults want to impose some type of punishment on or sanction against the Russian government for waging a war on Ukraine, another chunk of the country thinks it’s best for President Biden and others in power to stay out of European affairs.

My colleague Geoffrey Skelley previously documented the sort of quandary many Americans are in regarding the war. And recent polling suggests that most voters are on the fence on where to go from here. That said, certain things are clearer based on recent polling: For starters, Americans are still somewhat dissatisfied with Biden’s response to the crisis. As my colleague Nathaniel Rakich wrote the day after Russia invaded Ukraine, Biden already had low approval ratings, including on his handling of foreign policy. Unfortunately for the president, though, his numbers haven’t significantly improved on the issue since. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll fielded in late February and early March, only 40 percent said they approved of the way Biden has handled Russia, while 43 percent said the same about how he’s handled Ukraine. Moreover, per the same survey, most Americans (63 percent) are against sending the U.S. military to Ukraine to help defend them against Russian forces — a reality Biden has said is off the table. Other polls yield a similar finding: According to an early February Economist/YouGov survey, 55 percent of Americans said that sending troops to Ukraine to fight Russian soldiers was a bad idea.

Beyond that, though, public opinion is a bit murky, and the data suggests that Americans have mixed feelings on the U.S. response — whether that’s things like imposing sanctions on Russia (which experts warn could raise gas prices here), allowing Ukraine to join NATO or sending U.S. troops to NATO countries in Eastern Europe. 

According to that Reuters/Ipsos survey, roughly one-third of Americans (34 percent) said Ukraine’s current problems should stay their own. And per the Economist/YouGov survey, adults were split on a number of potential courses of action. On imposing economic sanctions on Russia, a bare majority (50 percent) thought this was a good idea, while 20 percent disagreed. Meanwhile, allowing Ukraine to join NATO earned the support of 43 percent of adults, compared with 15 percent who said that was a bad idea. And 42 percent of citizens said they wanted the U.S. to send financial aid to Ukraine; 24 percent did not. What’s somewhat striking from YouGov’s survey, though, is that large shares of Americans are simply unsure how the U.S. should respond. Thirty-one percent and 42 percent of respondents, respectively, said they didn’t know whether it was a good or bad idea for the U.S. to impose economic sanctions on Russia or let Ukraine join NATO. But, to some extent, these numbers should be expected, as Americans often don’t know a lot about foreign policy and look to political elites to signal what to do.

Of course, the situation in Europe is fluid, so these numbers could change with time. Greater media coverage of the war will likely shape Americans’ opinions on the issue, but it’s also possible that more people will begin paying attention if things start to affect them personally — or if they start to feel even more strongly about Biden’s inability to handle international affairs.


Why Russia is waging war in Ukraine | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

Indeed, there’s already evidence that public opinion on the crisis in Ukraine has changed — particularly on the question of whether what’s happening overseas will increase the cost of goods and services, like gas prices. On imposing additional sanctions against Russia, 69 percent of Americans said they were in favor, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll that was conducted in the two days prior to the invasion on Feb. 24. But despite widespread support, only about half of the public said those sanctions were worthwhile if they led to more expensive gas prices. A CNN/SSRS poll fielded just after the invasion began found a similar result: Per the survey, 71 percent of Americans agreed that the U.S. should consider gas prices when deciding its actions toward Russia, a major oil and natural gas producer.

Beyond that, it’s hard to tell just how much Americans’ views on the war could change, especially given how volatile the situation is. But, so far, evidence suggests that as time goes on, the public is paying more attention to European affairs. The CNN/SSRS poll found that 79 percent of adults were following the war at least somewhat closely, though only 3 in 10 said they were watching it very closely. Here at FiveThirtyEight, we’ll continue to cover what’s happening in Europe, but unless the war has a more direct effect on Americans’ day-to-day lives, it’s possible that the public won’t have strong opinions on this conflict moving forward. 

Other polling bites

  • According to recent polling by Politico/Morning Consult, almost a majority of voters (46 percent) are in favor of the Senate confirming U.S. Circuit Court Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to replace retiring Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. What’s more, the survey suggests that appointing Jackson to the high court garnered more initial support than that of any of President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominees. Morning Consult asked voters about the prior three nominees (Amy Coney Barrett, Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch) when they were nominated as well and found that Jackson netted the most initial support overall, although Gorsuch came in a close second at 43 percent. Kavanaugh, meanwhile, whose confirmation was mired in allegations of sexual misconduct and sexual assault, ranked third at 40 percent, while Barrett, whose confirmation was rushed by Republicans in the weeks leading up to the 2020 presidential election, earned the support of 37 percent of voters at the time of her nomination.
  • As new COVID-19 case numbers decrease nationally, some polling suggests that Americans are less willing to take the necessary safety precautions to protect themselves and others from spreading the coronavirus. Per a recent survey from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, just a bare majority of Americans (50 percent) approve of mask mandates — down 5 percentage points from August and 25 points from December. Republicans, many of whom were against mask mandates to begin with, were much less likely (22 percent) to say they were in favor of mask mandates compared with independents (43 percent) and Democrats (77 percent). Part of what’s driving the downtick in taking more precautions is that many Americans aren’t as worried about COVID-19 now as they were in December — at the time, 36 percent said they were extremely or very worried about it versus 24 percent who said the same in February — but Democrats and Republicans still have very different ideas about the types of precautionary measures needed.
  • A majority of U.S. adults said they believe that younger generations face more challenges than their parents did, according to polling from the Pew Research Center released late last month. Per the survey, issues involving money and savings were top-of-mind. A whopping 72 percent and 71 percent, respectively, said that things like saving for the future and paying for college are harder for young adults today. 
  • At one point, it seemed like conservative Americans were abandoning Fox News, opting instead for more right-wing outlets like One America News Network and Newsmax. The reason for the switch? Last year, some GOPers reportedly started to feel as though Fox News wasn’t doing enough to address Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was stolen and that its coverage was becoming too similar to that of other mainstream media outlets. February polling from Morning Consult, however, suggests that Fox News’s credibility is improving among rank-and-file Republicans. According to the survey, 69 percent of Republicans now say they find the outlet “credible,” compared with 59 percent who felt the same in May. Moreover, the share of Republicans who said they trust Fox News a lot or some also jumped 10 percentage points since May — from 60 percent to 70 percent. Of course, that doesn’t mean the party’s voters are abandoning Newsmax and OANN. Morning Consult found that two-fifths of Republicans ranked Newsmax as credible, while 31 percent saw OANN in the same light.
  • According to a February YouGov survey, 37 percent of Americans believe demons exist, and 36 percent believe in ghosts. There was little confidence among the general public that werewolves and vampires exist, however; only 7 percent were firm in their belief that each of those entities exist. One fascinating find: Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to believe in demons. Half of Republicans (50 percent) said demons are real, compared with 3 in 10 Democrats (29 percent) who said the same. Republicans were slightly more likely than Democrats to believe in other supernatural beings (37 percent to 26 percent) and ghosts (38 percent to 33 percent).

Biden approval 

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker,141.6 percent of Americans approve of the job Biden is doing as president, while 52.9 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -11.3 points). At this time last week, 42.1 percent approved and 52.5 percent disapproved (a net approval rating of -10.4 points). One month ago, Biden had an approval rating of 41.5 percent and a disapproval rating of 53.0 percent, for a net approval rating of -11.5 points.

Generic ballot

In our average of polls of the generic congressional ballot,2 Republicans currently lead by 2.2 points (44.8 percent to 42.6 percent). A week ago, Republicans led Democrats by 2.6 points (45 percent to 42.5 percent). At this time last month, voters preferred Republicans by 1.9 points (44.3 percent to 42.4 percent).

Footnotes

  1. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

  2. As of 5 p.m. Eastern on Thursday.

Alex Samuels is a politics reporter at FiveThirtyEight.

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