Did Putin Unite America? If Not Just For A Split Second?

In a nation that has been horribly dived along party lines for years, average Americans and lawmakers stand remarkably united in the outrage against Russia and Vladimir Putin and in their support for the people of Ukraine.

In these first few days of since Russia invaded its sovereign neighbor, the usually quite divided American public is unusually 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 when it comes to domestic politics, the same old lines are still there. The same poll found that only 3 percent of 2020 Donald Trump voters were willing to say that President Biden is “doing a better job leading his country” than Putin is in leading his. Nearly half – 47% — 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%, say “neither” man is doing a better job than the other.

More Trump voters also expressed an unfavorable opinion of Biden vs. Putin. A whopping 95% said that they had a “somewhat” unfavorable opinion of Biden, while 78% said that of Putin — 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.

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.

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, which recently hit an all-time low of 37%, according to the latest Washington Post/ABC News poll. 

About Bill Sheridan