The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Americans split on Obama’s handling of Russia, Post-ABC poll finds

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A bipartisan majority of Americans support hitting Russia with sanctions for its actions involving Ukraine, but the public splits on President Obama's handling of the issue in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

A solid 56 percent supports a coordinated effort of U.S. and European sanctions against Russia, which continues to strengthen its grip over the Crimean peninsula. Nearly as many strongly support sanctions (28 percent) as oppose them altogether (31 percent).

See poll results and breakdowns by group

But Obama, who ordered sanctions Thursday against individuals aiding the takeover, receives lukewarm 42 percent approval and 43 percent disapproval marks, with a substantial 15 percent holding no opinion.

Overall, Democrats and Republicans are in rare agreement in supporting sanctions, and familiar discord about Obama. Just over six in 10 of partisans in both camps support sanctioning Russia. And in an unheard of alignment of the far left and far right, 68 percent of liberal Democrats support sanctions, as do 69 percent of conservative Republicans.

Political polarization reverts right back when judging Obama however, with his 70 percent approval marks among Democrats collapsing to just 17 percent among Republicans.

Obama has struggled to rally passionate support from his base during international conflicts, and Ukraine is no exception. Just 32 percent of Democrats "strongly approve" of Obama's handling of Ukraine, while 55 percent of Republicans "strongly disapprove." Among all Americans, strong disapprovers outnumber strong approvers by 11 percentage points (27 to 16 percent).

Obama's approval ratings have been in the low to middling range on a number of specific foreign policy issues as well as for his handling of international affairs overall. In an early March Post-ABC poll, Obama had a 45 percent approval rating on international affairs. In a January Post-ABC poll he had ratings of 33 percent and 39 percent each for handling Syria and Iran, respectively.

Europeans have joined the U.S. in imposing sanctions, a move which may reassure many Americans. The poll finds support for sanctions dropping from 56 percent to just 40 percent if Europe is not involved, with 51 percent opposing a U.S.-only approach.

The poll also finds a significant gap between Americans coming of age before and after the end of the cold war. Roughly six in 10 Americans who turned 18 while the U.S.S.R. still existed (ages 40 and over) support combined U.S.-European sanctions against Russia. But support for sanctions dips below half among adults age 18 to 39.

Rather than being opposed, the post-Cold War generations are far less sure of whether the U.S. should enact sanctions. Nearly one in five of those under age 40 have no opinion on this question, about 10 percentage points higher than those age 40 and above.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted March 5 to 9 among a random national sample of 1,014 adults, including users of both conventional and cellular phones. Results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.