Ukraine: A matter of attention

Ukraine: A matter of attention

Americans are divided on whether or not the US should get involved in the Ukraine crisis.

Americans have never been good at following events overseas, except when they directly affect American lives and American interests.  Often, the public sees more pressing problems at home.  So it should be no surprise that half the country in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll say the U.S. should not get involved in Russia’s dispute with Ukraine.  After all, just 19% of Americans say they are following what is happening in Ukraine “very closely.”

Although the Russian presence in Ukraine has escalated in the last week, Americans are no more likely this week to be paying attention than they were last week.  But those who are paying attention express very different views than the rest of the public about what should be done. 

More than half of those who are following the situation very closely think the United States should get involved in the dispute, more than twice as many as in the overall public. 

Attentiveness is not a matter of partisanship: Republicans and Democrats are equally likely to say they are following the situation very closely, and equally likely to say they aren’t following it closely at all.  Older Americans are more attentive (29% of those 65 and older are following events very closely), and as is usual in surveys about military events, men are more attentive than women (26% of men are following events very closely, compared with just 13% of women).  Better educated and better-off respondents also are more attentive.

Unlike those who are very attentive, whose sympathies lie with the Ukrainians by more than nine to one, many of those who aren’t paying attention aren’t sure whether they sympathize more with Ukrainians or with ethnic Russians in Crimea.  85% of those not following the events at all, and 69% of those not closely following events in Ukraine can’t choose a side in the conflict. 

Even those paying very close attention doubt that either a military or an economic response from the U.S., like sending troops to Ukraine, would result in Russian troop withdrawal.  Just one in four overall think military action by the United States would result in the Russians leaving the country.  One in four think economic sanctions on Russia would have that result. 

Still, most Americans would approve of some action by the United States, with the largest numbers supporting negotiations and economic sanctions against Russia.  A majority of those paying very close attention would also support economic aid.  There is far less support for military assistance and only 6% overall would favor sending U.S. troops to Ukraine.  

Even those following events very closely don’t favor sending troops or even providing weapons to the Ukrainians.  While three in ten overall would do nothing, two-thirds of those who aren’t following events at all would take no action.

So the President is having a very difficult time finding the right path for America to take in this crisis, and many Americans aren’t sure how to evaluate the President’s handling of the situation in Ukraine.  Those following events very closely disapprove by 54% to 34%.  Most of them want the U.S. to take some sort of action. 

Very few of those paying little or no attention have an opinion about the President’s management of the crisis.

Image: Getty

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.

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Kathy Frankovic

KATHLEEN A. FRANKOVIC is one of the world’s leading experts in public opinion polling. She has been an election and polling consultant for CBS News and other research organizations.

She speaks and writes internationally about public opinion research, journalism and elections as an invited speaker in places as diverse as Italy, Jordan, Hong Kong, Manila, Mexico, Lisbon, Chile and India. In 2009 she retired after more than 30 years at CBS News.

She received an A.B. from Cornell University in 1968, and a Ph.D. in political science from Rutgers University in 1974. Before joining CBS News, she taught political science at the University of Vermont, and has also held visiting professorships at Cornell and at the Annenberg School at the University of Pennsylvania.