With President Biden’s top security adviser warning that Russia could invade Ukraine “any day now,” a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows that Donald Trump voters are now more than twice as likely as Joe Biden voters to say “the conflict is none of America’s business” — a striking role reversal after decades of right-wing hawkishness toward Moscow.
The shift presumably reflects the influence of GOP figures such as Trump and top Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who have long rationalized and even praised the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The poll of 1,628 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Feb. 3 to 7, found that a full 42 percent of Trump voters now say the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is none of America’s business — 6 points more than the share who say “it’s in America’s best interests to stop Russia and help Ukraine” (36 percent).
In contrast, 60 percent of Biden voters now insist that it is in America’s best interests to help Ukraine, while just 20 percent disagree and claim the conflict doesn’t concern the U.S.
By the same token, more Trump voters now say the U.S. should take “neither” country’s side in the clash (49 percent) than say the U.S. should side with Ukraine (46 percent). Biden voters say the opposite, with more than two-thirds (67 percent) insisting the U.S. should side with Ukraine, compared with just 29 percent who prefer neutrality.
To some degree, this gap may arise from America’s usual partisan patterns. As more than 130,000 Russian troops mass on the Ukraine border, it has been Biden, not Trump, who has been trying to defuse the situation by threatening “swift and severe” economic sanctions and sending arms and troops to the region. It is not surprising that Americans who voted for the current president would be more inclined to favor his approach than those who backed his predecessor.
Yet the new poll results also suggest that partisanship isn’t the only — or even the major — force at work here. Conservatives are also divided among themselves, signaling a larger rift between traditional Republicans and their Trumpier counterparts that could complicate America’s efforts to respond to Russia.
One key factor is where people get their news.
By and large, Republican leaders in Congress have encouraged Biden to get tougher on Russia by imposing immediate sanctions on Russian energy exports and sending more lethal aid to Ukraine’s military.
But Fox’s Carlson has repeatedly questioned U.S. support for Ukraine, asking on Nov. 10 why the U.S. would “take Ukraine’s side and not Russia’s side” and arguing in December that Putin was justified in building up troops along the border.
Ukraine is “strategically irrelevant to the United States,” Carlson added in January. “No rational person could defend a war with Russia over Ukraine.”
Sure enough, poll respondents who name Fox as their most-watched cable news network say the U.S. should take neither country’s side rather than Ukraine’s by 48 percent to 44 percent. Among those who watch CNN, the split is 53 percent to 37 percent in favor of Ukraine; MSNBC viewers, meanwhile, are 70 percent pro-Ukraine to 24 percent pro-neutrality. As Carlson steers rank-and-file Republicans toward Russia, his liberal counterpart, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, appears to be having the opposite effect on her audience.
Another important factor is the strength of party identification. On the question of which side to take in the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, self-described Democrats look a lot like independents who lean Democratic. Less than a quarter of both groups — 22 percent and 24 percent, respectively — say the conflict is none of America’s business.
But on the right it’s a different story. There, independents who lean Republican (57 percent) are 7 points more likely than self-described Republicans (50 percent) to insist that the U.S. should stay neutral. They’re also 9 points less likely — 30 percent vs. 39 percent — to say it’s in America’s best interests to help Ukraine and stop Russia.
The implication is clear: On the right, the less strongly someone identifies as a Republican, the more skeptical they tend to be of intervening on Ukraine’s behalf.
Age and income seem to contribute as well. Hawkishness prevails among older Republicans, with those over 45 favoring Ukraine (51 percent) over neutrality (48 percent) and those under 45 favoring neutrality (53 percent) over Ukraine (32 percent) The same goes for Republicans who make more or less than $50,000 a year; the former side with Ukraine by 4 points, while the latter side with “neither” by 24.
The picture that emerges is of a significant faction of non-establishment-oriented conservatives — younger, less wealthy and less engaged with Washington politics — who now favor a softer stance toward Russia.
Their views were likely shaped by several years of sympathetic statements from Trump, who said in 2016 that Putin “has been a leader far more than” then-President Barack Obama, and who continued to defend and praise his Russian counterpart throughout his presidency, particularly as evidence emerged that Putin had meddled in the 2016 election to benefit him.
As political commentator William Saletan recently pointed out in Slate, “In Gallup polls before 2016, Republicans generally viewed Russia less favorably than Democrats did. Now it’s the other way around.”
Polls taken in June of last year also showed that Putin enjoys a better net favorable rating among Republicans than Biden does, by anywhere from 16 to 22 percentage points. In a January Yahoo News/YouGov survey, 62 percent of Republicans said Putin was “a stronger leader” than Biden.
As a result, there is little consensus among Americans as a whole about how to proceed. Just 40 percent, for instance, say it’s in America’s best interests to stop Russia and help Ukraine, while 33 percent say the conflict is none of America’s business and 27 percent are unsure. Similarly, more Americans now say the U.S. should stay neutral (49 percent) rather than take Ukraine’s side (46 percent).
Meanwhile, not one of a list of potential U.S. policy responses garners majority support. The most popular — “continue diplomacy with Russia to avoid an invasion” (43 percent) and “implement severe economic sanctions to counter an invasion” (39 percent) — fall short by several points. None of the rest — “send arms to Ukraine” (24 percent); “send troops to the region to bolster defenses, including to Ukraine” (19 percent); “send troops to the region to bolster defenses, but not to Ukraine” (19 percent); “avoid further foreign conflict by agreeing to Putin’s demands” (6 percent) — appeal to more than a quarter of the public.
Yet on the question of Putin’s demands for NATO to withdraw from Eastern Europe and bar Ukraine from joining the alliance, Trump voters (14 percent) are nearly twice as likely as Biden voters (8 percent) to describe them as “reasonable.”
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,628 U.S. adults interviewed online from Feb. 3 to 7, 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 percent.