Ukraine: People don't think sanctions will stop Russia

September 04, 2014, 2:42 PM GMT+0

Support for tougher sanctions on Russia might have the highest popular support of any particular response, but most Americans just don't think that sanctions will stop Russian aggression

The fight over eastern Ukraine is one that Americans would like to avoid and one that many think tougher sanctions alone won’t solve. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, Americans stop short of giving majority support to any one action the United States might take, though economic sanctions against Russia remain acceptable to the largest number.

In the last six months, as the struggle between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian military has worsened, the American public’s willingness to take any action has increased only slightly. The percentage wanting to pursue diplomatic negotiations with Russia has dropped seven points, from 44% in March, and the percentage favoring sending military hardware to the Ukrainian government has doubled (though it is still only 22%). In this poll, those two items show distinct partisan differences. Republicans are more than twice as likely as Democrats to want to send Ukraine military weapons; Democrats are 16 points more likely to support negotiating with Russia.

45% would support economic sanctions, with about the same percentages of Republicans and Democrats in favor.

One of the concerns with tougher economic sanctions on Russia is that most Americans just don’t think tougher sanctions will work. Asked directly about the European Union’s discussion of increased sanctions, just 14% believe that tougher sanctions in general would prevent Russian aggression. 55% disagree. Republicans are particularly skeptical.

For the most part, Americans are paying attention to the crisis in Ukraine. Two in three are following news about it at least somewhat closely. Only 11% are not following it at all. Half the public already thinks Russia has invaded Ukraine – even though Russian president Vladimir Putin has denied there are Russian combat troops in Ukraine.

Hardly any Americans express the opinion that Russia won’t invade Ukraine.

Americans may not like Putin, and clearly do not believe his characterization of a Russian presence in Ukraine. But there is perhaps a grudging respect for Putin’s leadership. More than three quarters describe Putin as a strong leader, with 35% saying he is “very strong.” Republicans are particularly likely to see strong leadership traits in the Russian president. More than half of them describe Putin as a “very strong” leader.

Many more Americans view Putin as a strong leader than say this about President Obama. Only 45% think the American President is a strong leader. Republicans in particular are much more likely to see Putin and not Obama as strong: 83% of Republicans describe Putin that way, while only 11% of Republicans say Obama is a strong leader. Similar percentages of Democrats describe Obama and Putin as strong leaders.

When it comes to evaluations of his performance handling the situation in Ukraine, the president gets low marks. Only 12% believe he has a clear plan for U.S. strategy there. And by 46% to 29%, Americans disapprove of his handling of it.

Full results can be found here.

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.