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Americans Currently Support Sanctioning Russia For Invading Ukraine But Are Reluctant To Deploy Troops

On Thursday, Russia invaded Ukraine, precipitating the largest military conflict in Europe since World War II. In response, President Biden has delivered on his promise to impose sweeping economic sanctions against Russia, after weeks of saying he would institute severe sanctions against the country in such an event.

It’s unclear at this point what these sanctions will do to stop Russian President Vladimir Putin in his invasion of Ukraine, but the sanctions issued by the U.S., in partnership with its allies, intend to hobble Russia’s economy by restricting its major banks’ ability to conduct business as well as the country’s overall ability to remain competitive in the global marketplace, including in particular its ability to bolster its military. In his address earlier this afternoon, Biden also reaffirmed financial and humanitarian support for Ukraine and promised that U.S. military forces in Eastern Europe would defend America’s NATO allies, but he was adamant in saying that American troops would not fight against Russia in Ukraine.

It’s still very early in understanding how the U.S. and its allies will respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but one key factor in how the Biden administration charts its path forward will undoubtedly hinge on the American people’s receptiveness to U.S. involvement in this conflict. And on that point, recent surveys suggest that Americans are leery of U.S. intervention in Ukraine, especially when it comes to sending American troops. This attitude hasn’t changed much in the past few weeks, either, even as a Russian invasion became more likely. Americans continue to have strongly negative views of Russia and support imposing strict sanctions that could damage the Russian economy, but Americans don’t yet seem ready to support direct U.S. military action.

There’s little doubt that Americans view Russia as a threat, though. Indeed, 71 percent of Americans told The Economist/YouGov this week that Russia posed a somewhat or serious threat to the U.S., with 41 percent calling Russia an “immediate and serious” threat — higher than for any other country or group the poll asked about. And in the same survey, 52 percent said it was more important for the U.S. to take a “strong stand” against Russia to prevent it from taking over Ukraine, compared with 24 percent who said it was more important to maintain good relations with Russia. On that question, a majority of both Democrats and Republicans prioritized opposing Russia in the Ukraine situation.

However, Americans don’t support the U.S. becoming seriously involved in the conflict and, at this point, strongly prefer sanctions and other forms of nonmilitary action to hurt Russia and help Ukraine. For instance, an AP-NORC poll from last week found that 52 percent of Americans wanted the U.S. to have a minor role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict, compared with only 26 percent who wanted the U.S. to have a major role (although what “major” and “minor” meant here was left open to interpretation). Meanwhile, that Economist/YouGov survey found that 57 percent of Americans felt that imposing economic sanctions on Russia was a good idea, and a sizable plurality of Americans (45 percent) supported giving Ukraine financial aid. But 55 percent thought it was a bad idea to send troops to Ukraine to fight Russians, and a slight plurality (37 percent) said the same of sending U.S. forces to Ukraine for support but not to fight the Russians.

It’s also possible that Americans have become even more skeptical of putting troops on the ground now than they were earlier this month. Morning Consult conducted polls on Feb. 7 and Feb. 19-20 in which they asked registered voters if they preferred imposing sanctions on Russia or sending more U.S. troops to Eastern Europe under a variety of scenarios, ranging from a Russian-backed coup establishing a pro-Russian government in Ukraine to a complete Russian occupation. And across four of the five scenarios Morning Consult asked about, American voters prefered imposing sanctions to military action in both polls, except in the event that Russia invades and occupies all of Ukraine. In early February, respondents were more likely to support sending troops than just imposing sanctions, but by last week, Americans were evenly split. This speaks to a broader trend between Morning Consult’s two polls: The share of registered voters who preferred sanctions rose slightly in its second poll while the share who backed sending more U.S troops to the region shrank.

This doesn’t mean that Americans would necessarily oppose a deployment of American military forces to the region, however. Americans were split, after all, on that worst-case scenario in Morning Consult’s latest polling, and more broadly, The Economist/YouGov found that a plurality (44 percent) of Americans thought it was a good idea to send troops to NATO allied countries in Eastern Europe, too.

Understanding where American views go from here is difficult, but as images from Ukraine take over the news, and as Biden and other U.S. leaders direct the country’s response to Russia’s invasion, it’s possible American views on Ukraine will change. By its very nature, a military action of this scope creates an incredibly volatile situation, which means it’s hard to understand Americans’ attitudes at this point. But as things change, we will be keeping a close watch on what Americans think about the Russia-Ukraine conflict.

Geoffrey Skelley is a senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.