With at least 100,000 Russian troops massing on the border of Ukraine, more than 6 in 10 Republicans and GOP-leaning independents (62 percent) now say Russian President Vladimir Putin is “a stronger leader” than Joe Biden, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll.
Fewer than half as many Republicans (25 percent) decline to take sides, saying neither leader is stronger than the other.
And just 4 percent of Republicans say Biden is stronger than Putin.
“Shame on them,” John Sipher, who worked in Moscow and ran Russia operations during his three decades in the CIA’s National Clandestine Service, told the Yahoo News “Skullduggery” podcast Tuesday when asked about the results. “Vladimir Putin hates the United States. He wants to do everything he can to weaken the United States around the world. He’s attacked our troops in Afghanistan. He’s undercut every foreign policy issue, [including] foreign policy issues that Republicans have supported for years around the world. He’s assassinating people around the world.”
“That’s incredibly, incredibly myopic, political, silly kind of thinking,” Sipher added.
The survey of 1,568 U.S. adults, which was conducted from Jan. 20 to 24 and includes 500 self-identified Republicans and Republican leaners, also found that the number of GOP respondents who believe Putin is stronger than Biden rises to 71 percent among those who name Fox News as their primary source of cable news — and falls to 54 percent among those who prefer other cable-news channels.
In recent weeks and months, Fox’s top primetime anchor, Tucker Carlson, has repeatedly favored Russia over 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 Monday night. “No rational person could defend a war with Russia over Ukraine.”
The U.S. is not positioning itself for direct war if Russia invades, but it has warned of severe consequences for Moscow, including a punishing round of sanctions by both the U.S. and its allies. Many European states are alarmed by Russia's strong-arming of its democratic neighbor, and they worry that such an invasion would be a prelude to more moves by Putin to expand his influence over former Soviet-bloc states.
As a report in the New York Times noted, “Putin is seeking to redraw the post-Cold War boundaries of Europe, establishing a broad, Russian-dominated security zone and drawing Ukraine back into Moscow’s orbit by force, if necessary.”
In March 2014, Russia invaded and annexed Crimea from Ukraine; since that year, Ukrainian forces in the eastern Donbass region have been mired in a war with Kremlin-backed rebels that has killed more than 13,000 people. As a result, Ukraine has moved closer to NATO, a development that Putin is now using as a pretext for escalating tensions.
Republican views on Russia were likely altered by several years of sympathetic statements from President Donald Trump, who said in 2016 that Putin "has been a leader far more than our president,” Barack Obama. Trump 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 Trump.
Previous polls suggest that rank-and-file Republicans, who were once hawkish toward Russia, have increasingly adopted Trump and Carlson’s softer stance. In 2012, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney faced criticism from Democrats after he described Russia as America’s No. 1 geopolitical foe.
As 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.” Likewise, “Republicans used to be more likely than Democrats to view Russia as a critical threat and to emphasize containment of Russian power rather than ‘friendly cooperation.’” But “by 2017, those numbers had turned upside down: Only one in three Republicans described Russia’s military power as a critical threat, and most said the U.S. should focus on cooperation instead of limiting Russia’s power.”
According to U.S. intelligence, Putin’s intentions remain unclear — though he appears to have developed a war plan that includes an invasion force of 175,000 troops.
In turn, Biden has said that Russian invasion would be “the most consequential thing that’s happened in the world in terms of war and peace since World War II,” and the New York Times reported over the weekend that the administration is now “considering deploying several thousand U.S. troops, as well as warships and aircraft, to NATO allies in the Baltics and Eastern Europe.”
The Yahoo News survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,568 U.S. adults interviewed online from Jan. 20 to 24, 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 2.8 percent.