Poll: In Reversal, American Public Ready to Defend Baltic Allies with Troops, Limit Russia's Influence

August 9, 2017

Public opinion in the United States about Russia has significantly shifted since Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election came to light. For the first time since Russia invaded Ukraine, a majority of the U.S. public would support using U.S. troops to defend a Baltic NATO ally if Russia invaded, according to new data from the 2017 Chicago Council Survey. Further, a majority of Americans now think the United States should work to limit Russia's international influence instead of undertaking friendly cooperation—a reversal from positions of Americans last year. The survey also found that eight in ten Americans support either maintaining or increasing sanctions on Russia.

However, there are partisan disagreements between Republicans and Democrats when it comes to Russia. The survey found Republicans are more likely to say that the United States should undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with Russia while Democrats are more likely to say that the United States should actively work to limit Russia's power, and Democrats have grown more likely to believe that Russia is working to undermine U.S. influence while Republicans have become less likely to believe so.

Key findings from the Chicago Council Survey, which was conducted between June 27 and July 19, 2017, include:

Growing Percentages Threatened by Russia, Support Defending Baltic Allies

  • For the first time since 2014, a majority of Americans (52 percent) would support sending U.S. troops to defend Baltic NATO allies Latvia, Lithuania or Estonia if Russia invaded.
  • Thirty-nine percent support intervening if Russia invaded the rest of Ukraine
  • Over 90 percent of Americans perceive Russia to be a threat the United States, with 42 percent calling it a "critical threat" and 51 percent calling it an "important but not critical" threat.
     

Americans Support Containment over Cooperation

  • A majority of Americans (53 percent) support actively limiting Russia's influence, with less than half (43 percent) supporting cooperation and engagement.
  • In 2016, preferences were reversed, with 58 percent of Americans supporting friendly cooperation with Russia and 39 percent supporting actively limiting its influence.
  • Around three-quarters of the U.S. public (74 percent) believes Russia is working to undermine America.
     

Large Public Support for Sanctions

  • A large majority of Americans (79 percent) favor either increasing or maintaining sanctions on Russia, only 17 percent favor ending or decreasing those sanctions.
     

Increasing Partisan Divide

  • Republicans are more likely to say that the United States should undertake friendly cooperation and engagement with Russia (56 percent vs. 28 percent Democrats), while Democrats are more likely to say that the United States should actively work to limit Russia's power (70 percent vs. 40 percent Republicans). In 2016, the pattern was opposite, with Democrats more inclined toward cooperation than Republicans (62 percent Democrats vs. 50 percent Republicans) and only minorities favoring a containment approach (34 percent Democrats, 44 percent Republicans).
  • Republicans are far less likely than Democrats to describe as critical threats to the United States Russian influence in U.S. elections (65 percent Democrats, 19 percent Republicans) and Russia's military power (50 percent Democrats, 32 percent Republicans).
  • While Republicans have grown less likely to believe that Russia is working to undermine U.S. influence (64 percent vs. 75 percent in 2016), Democrats have grown more likely to believe so (82 percent vs. 72 percent in 2016).
  • Democrats are far more likely than Republicans to support increasing sanctions against Russia (51 percent Democrats, 29 percent Republicans).
     

The full brief from the 2017 Chicago Council Survey is available online here.

About the Chicago Council Survey

The analysis in this report is based on data from the 2017 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2017 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between June 27 and July 19, 2017 among a weighted national sample of 2,020 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of error is ±2.4 percentage points.

The 2017 Chicago Council Survey is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation, and the personal support of Lester Crown and the Crown family.