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Big majority of Americans back sanctions on Russia, aid to Ukraine, poll finds

A Washington Post-ABC News poll also finds strong opposition to any direct military conflict with Moscow

President Biden on April 28 proposed legislation for the United States to provide additional funding to support Ukraine in its defense from Russia’s invasion. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Demetrius Freeman/The Washington Post)
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Two months after Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine, Americans are stalwart in their support of the embattled country, with a large, bipartisan majority supporting increased sanctions against Russia and most also backing military and humanitarian support for Ukrainians, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll.

In all, 73 percent say the United States is doing either the right amount or too little to support Ukraine.

At the same time, 72 percent oppose the United States taking direct military action against Russian forces, while 21 percent support the idea. Even among those who say the country is doing too little to support Ukraine, 57 percent oppose direct military action, something President Biden has said is off the table, repeatedly warning that such a move could lead to “World War III.”

The findings suggest that Biden’s policies largely reflect Americans’ preferences when it comes to the Russian invasion. Biden has steadily ramped up military and humanitarian assistance to Kyiv — he asked Congress on Thursday for another $33 billion in such funding — while regularly tightening sanctions on Moscow. But he has also been quick to stress that he will not send Americans to Ukraine or take other actions, such as implementing a no-fly zone, that could lead to a direct military clash with Russia.

Despite the broad support for sanctions, they have created a political problem for Biden and other Democrats by helping drive up gas prices, and that dynamic is reflected in the poll.

About 2 in 3 Americans, or 66 percent, say they are concerned about sanctions contributing to higher food and energy costs at home. The anxiety is bipartisan, with 68 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of Republicans saying they are concerned. Gas prices have averaged more than $4 a gallon since the start of March.

But even among those concerned that sanctions are spurring inflation, 64 percent support increasing them, as do 67 percent of Americans overall.

Read full Post-ABC poll results

Biden has tried to prepare the nation for the financial pain stemming from the crisis in Ukraine, blaming it on Russian President Vladimir Putin and citing “Putin’s price hike” whenever he speaks of higher prices at the pump.

“The cost of this fight is not cheap, but caving to aggression is going to be more costly if we allow it to happen,” Biden said last week in urging more aid to Ukraine. “We either back the Ukrainian people as they defend their country, or we stand by as the Russians continue their atrocities and aggression in Ukraine.”

Americans are widely worried about the conflict escalating, with 81 percent saying they fear that the war will expand into other European countries, 80 percent concerned about U.S. forces getting involved in the fighting and 80 percent concerned about Russia using nuclear weapons. Fifty percent say they are “very concerned” about nuclear weapons.

Why the world is worried about Russia's nuclear weapons

These concerns over the crisis escalating are also bipartisan. More than 8 in 10 Democrats and Republicans are concerned about the war expanding beyond Ukraine and the United States becoming involved in the fighting. Large majorities of both groups are also concerned about Russia using nuclear weapons, though Democrats are somewhat more worried about this (86 percent) than Republicans (72 percent).

Approval for Biden’s handling of the war in the Ukraine — as well as his handling of the pandemic — has helped buoy his overall job approval ratings, which increased five points from 37 percent in February to 42 percent in the new poll. Still, Biden remains solidly in negative territory, with 52 percent disapproving of his job performance amid persistent concerns about the economy.

Specifically, 42 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the situation between Russia and Ukraine, up from 33 percent when Russia launched its invasion just over two months ago. Now, 47 percent of Americans disapprove of his handling of the crisis, the same percent that disapproved in February, while fewer people say they have no opinion.

The approval for Biden’s handling of the war is largely partisan, with 73 percent of Democrats and 41 percent of independents approving. Only 14 percent of Republicans approved of Biden’s handling of the war, with 76 percent disapproving.

Read poll results by subgroup

Notably, Biden’s support of his handling of Ukraine and Russia has improved markedly with independents since February, when 30 percent approved.

While the latest Post-ABC poll did not measure Americans’ reasons for supporting Ukraine, polls in the weeks after Russia’s invasion found a sharp increase in support for sanctions, as well as in negative views toward Russia. A Pew Research Center survey, for instance, found 70 percent said Russia is an enemy rather than a competitor or partner, up from 41 percent who said the same in January.

Biden has repeatedly sought to make the case for U.S. involvement in the distant war, suggesting that he recognizes that support could wane if it drags on too long.

“Throughout our history, we’ve learned that when dictators do not pay the price for their aggression, they cause more chaos and engage in more aggression,” Biden said last week. “They keep moving, and the costs, the threats to America and the world, keep rising. We can’t let this happen.”

Views on Ukraine remain remarkably stable across party lines, including among Americans who voted for opposing candidates in the 2020 presidential election, making Ukraine an area of rare bipartisan agreement. Relatively few Republicans have been forcefully critical of Biden on the issue, especially compared with their regular attacks on him over inflation, crime, immigration and other subjects.

Of those who voted for Biden, 64 percent support more military aid for Ukraine, as do 52 percent of those who voted for President Donald Trump. And 83 percent of Americans who voted for Biden support more humanitarian aid for Ukraine, as do 67 percent of Americans who voted for Trump.

On Thursday, Biden called for a dramatic increase in aid to Ukraine, urging Congress to pass a new $33 billion spending package that includes military and humanitarian aid.

The request for more aid came at a time when the United States has determined, as Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin put it, that Ukraine “can win — they can win if they have the right equipment, the right support.” And it also comes as the fighting shifts to the eastern part of the country for what is expected to be a long slog.

The Post-ABC poll finds that age is a much greater source of division about U.S. involvement in Ukraine, with younger Americans less supportive of additional actions.

While 69 percent of those aged 65 and older support increasing military support, that drops to 54 percent among those aged 40 to 64 and 47 percent among adults younger than 40. Support for increasing military support is particularly low among younger adults who identify or lean Republican: 38 percent support boosting military support to Ukraine, while 52 percent are opposed.

The Post-ABC poll was conducted April 24 to April 28 among a random national sample of 1,004 adults, reached on cellphones and landlines. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for overall results and is larger for subgroups.