Americans reconsider Zelensky, Biden, and Putin as the war in Ukraine rages on

Carl BialikU.S. Politics Editor and Vice President of Data Science
March 10, 2022, 2:43 PM GMT+0

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is affecting Americans’ views of three presidents: Joe Biden, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, and Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelensky. The latest Economist/YouGov Poll finds that the share of Americans who view Zelensky favorably is rising fast as he becomes better known, continuing last week’s trend. Biden’s getting slightly higher marks for his handling of foreign policy and the crisis, in a poll conducted after his first State of the Union address, though his low marks before the speech haven’t been reversed. And Putin, viewed by most Americans as a threat to the U.S. and a strong leader before the invasion, now looks to more Americans like a threat but to fewer like a strong leader.

The share of Americans who view Zelensky favorably has doubled in a couple of weeks, with little change to the share who view him unfavorably.

Though Zelensky is well-liked by many Americans, few expect him to hold onto his presidency for long. Americans with an opinion are split on whether he’ll be president in a year, while twice as many who have an opinion on Putin holding the Russian presidency in a year say he will than say he won’t.

American opinion on Putin has been negative for some time, leaving little room for it to get worse. Yet Russian forces’ actions that have killed civilians and prevented civilian evacuation may have hurt Putin’s standing among Americans further: 70% say he is guilty of war crimes and 69% say Russia is deliberately striking civilian areas. At least 90% of Americans 65 and older agree with each claim.

Now even more Americans see Putin as a “very serious threat” than saw him as a “serious threat” when we asked the question differently in recent weeks.

The extent of the threat Putin poses in Americans’ views does not seem to correlate positively with how they assess the strength of his leadership. While most Americans continue to say Putin is a somewhat or very strong leader, the share who say he is a weak leader has risen since the invasion.

While Americans’ views of leaders of other countries can be subject to rapid changes — as they can be based on less exposure, and are less tied to U.S. party politics — Americans’ views of Biden are more stable. But small positive shifts toward Biden on a few questions suggest at least some Americans are thinking more positively about him as a result of his handling of the war in Ukraine. These modest changes generally still leave him with more Americans disapproving of him than approving, though.

The share of Americans approving of Biden’s handling of foreign policy has ticked up, though so has the share disapproving; with a war in the news, fewer are unsure.

Biden also has gained slightly in the share of Americans confident he can deal wisely with an international crisis.

And more Americans now are saying he is a strong leader, though they’re still outnumbered by those who say he’s weak.

Slightly more Americans approve of his handling of the Russia-Ukraine crisis than last week, though still those who say Biden has a clear plan for U.S. strategy in Ukraine are outnumbered by those who say he doesn’t by a margin of two to one.

See the toplines and crosstabs from this Economist/YouGov Poll

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between March 5 - 8, 2022. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the 2018 American Community Survey, conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, as well as 2016 and 2020 Presidential votes (or non-votes). Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all U.S. citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3% for the overall sample.

Image: Getty