Most Americans with opinions on Ukraine and Taiwan favor supporting them — even militarily

December 21, 2021, 8:38 PM UTC

While many Republicans and Democrats view China and Russia differently, both groups generally agree that neither of those two countries should encroach on places beyond their internationally recognized borders. 

Russia’s troop presence near the Ukrainian border may create an international dilemma for the United States: How far should the U.S. go to prevent additional incursions by Russia into a country friendly to the U.S., beyond Russia’s takeover of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Many Americans in the latest Economist/YouGov Poll indicate they would be amenable to additional U.S. support for Ukraine.

Americans largely are aware of the growing border tension between Russia and Ukraine, and generally see Ukraine as friendly, Russia as unfriendly or even a serious threat. Nearly three in four Americans view Russia as either unfriendly to the U.S. or an enemy. Ukraine, on the other hand, is seen that way by just 13% of Americans, while 55% view it as friendly or an ally. Nearly one in three Americans see Russia as an immediate and serious threat to the U.S. Nearly three in four Americans say they have heard a little or a lot about Russian troops moving toward the border with Ukraine.

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While many Americans aren’t sure about the best priority and tactics for the U.S. in a potential conflict, those with opinions generally favor helping Ukraine, including militarily. By more than two to one (54% to 21%), Americans asked to choose between prioritizing taking a strong stand so that Russia does not take over Ukraine by force or maintaining good relations with Russia prefer that the U.S. take a strong stand. Taking a strong stand wins among Republicans (54% to 22%) and Democrats (64% to 14%), and is particularly popular among men and people who have heard a lot about the border situation.

And by 34% to 22%, Americans say their country should help protect Ukraine with military force in the event of armed conflict between Ukraine and Russia.

Respondents were asked to say whether Russia or China poses a bigger threat to the U.S. Democrats see Russia as a greater threat than China by a 16-point margin. Republicans are far more likely to focus their attention on China: 83% call China a greater threat than Russia. Still, most Democrats and Republicans agree that both countries are unfriendly to the U.S. Russia is seen by 68% of Republicans as unfriendly or as an enemy of the U.S.

Americans’ view of China as unfriendly or an enemy is reflected in opinion on Taiwan. When it comes to balancing good relations with China with continued U.S. support for Taiwan — which China regards as a breakaway province — Americans prioritize Taiwan’s safety, too. While the U.S. does not officially recognize Taiwan, it continues unofficial relations with the country, including arms sales for Taiwan’s defense.

By more than two to one, Americans favor a strong stand on the China-Taiwan issue. Half of Americans say it is more important for the U.S. to take a strong stand so that China does not take over Taiwan by force, compared to 21% who would prioritize maintaining good relations with China. 

As with Ukraine, fewer support military assistance: 38% support providing Taiwan with military assistance in the event of armed conflict between Taiwan and China, while 19% oppose it. As in a potential Russia-Ukraine conflict, many have no opinion on a military response: 43% say they don’t know enough to answer. 

Republicans, who are more likely than Democrats to see China as a bigger threat than Russia, are more supportive than Democrats of action. Like with Ukraine, men are more supportive of military action than women are. Americans who say they are paying the most attention to China-Taiwan are more likely to support intervention by the U.S.

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About as many Americans perceive other international entities as serious and immediate threats as see Russia or China as such – in particular, the Islamic State. All the perceived threats could create difficulties for President Biden, about whom only 34% of Americans say they are confident in his ability to deal wisely with an international crisis. Nearly half, 49%, say they are uneasy about his ability. That figure includes 88% of Republicans.

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 December 12 and December 14, 2021. 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. 

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