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Mentioning Hitler makes Americans more willing to intervene in Ukraine

A pro-Ukrainian activist holds a poster (L) with Russian President Vladimir Putin caricatured as Adolf Hitler during a rally in front of the German Embassy in Kiev on March 11, 2014. (ANATOLII STEPANOV, AFP/Getty Images)

You may have heard about a little controversy involving the mention of Adolf Hitler in the context of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Now a new YouGov poll provides a sense of what difference mentioning Hitler can make.

In the poll, respondents were asked whether they thought the U.S. should get involved in Ukraine and what types of involvement were appropriate — sanctions, economic aid, diplomacy, military intervention, and so on.  But the poll also involved an experiment.  Half of respondents were asked about Ukraine only after they answered these two questions:

“Do you think Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea today are similar to what Hitler did in Austria and Czechoslovakia in 1938?”

“Would you consider it ‘appeasement’ for the U.S. and other western democracies not to take strong action to defend Ukraine?”

The other half of respondents answered these questions after they were asked about Ukraine.  So we can see what effect bringing up Hitler and appeasement had on opinion.

Doug Rivers reports the results:

Only 21% of those asked in the conventional way favored U.S. involvement in the Ukraine. When this question was preceded by the questions about appeasement and comparing Putin to Hitler, support for U.S. involvement rose to 29%. It didn’t change the overall result — a majority of Americans still oppose getting involved in the Ukraine even after the parallel to 1938 is mentioned — but it does make a difference of about 8%.

And here’s the graph:

Mentioning Hitler also tended to increase the percentage of Americans who favored sanctions, economic aid, providing weapons to Ukraine, and intervening militarily — although sanctions and economic aid were by far more popular than either military option.  For more, see the post.

John Sides is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Washington University. He specializes in public opinion, voting, and American elections.



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