Poll: Russian Public Opinion is at Odds with Putin’s Foreign Policy in Syria

January 16, 2018

Both Russians and Americans believe their country’s military priority should be to combat violent extremist groups rather than take sides in the Syrian civil war, according to research from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Levada-Center in Moscow. Despite the fact that Russia’s military intervention has targeted rebel forces opposing Syrian President Assad, more Russians support combating groups like ISIS (48 percent) than preventing the overthrow of Assad (27 percent).

Further, public opinion survey data show that while Americans are particularly focused on joint efforts to defuse North Korea's nukes, Russians see ending the conflict in Syria as a more pressing priority for joint action.

The report, "Americans and Russians Agree on Priorities for Syria, differ on Urgency of North Korea," is based on surveys of American and Russian attitudes on a number of bilateral issues.

Among the key findings of the survey:

Ending the Conflict in Syria:

  • Russians seem unsure of the benefits from Moscow’s military involvement in Syria. Nearly as many Russians say that the intervention has brought more harm (33 percent) as good (31 percent), and 37 percent say it has brought neither good nor harm.
  • More Russians oppose (49 percent) than support (27 percent) using Russian troops to prevent the overthrow of Assad. In contrast, more Russians support (48 percent) than oppose (36 percent) the use of Russian troops to fight against violent extremist groups in Iraq and Syria.
  • Only a quarter of Americans would support the United States helping negotiate a settlement that keeps Assad in power (25 percent) compared to 70 percent who would support a U.S.-aided settlement that establishes a new leader for Syria.
     

Priorities for Joint US-Russia Efforts:

  • Russians are most interested in working with the United States on terrorism and nuclear proliferation.
    • Four in ten Russians choose either ending the Syria conflict (24 percent) or combating terrorism in the Middle East (18 percent) as the first priority of Russian cooperation with the United States.
    • Although four in ten Russians choose reducing nuclear weapons worldwide as a top priority for Russia-US collaboration (27 percent first priority, 15 percent second priority), far fewer prioritize jointly eliminating North Korea's nuclear program (9 percent) or limiting Iran's nuclear program (7 percent).
  • A majority of Americans also cite nuclear proliferation as a top area for joint efforts – focusing on eliminating North Korea’s nuclear weapons program (38 percent), reducing nuclear weapons worldwide (14 percent) and limiting Iran's nuclear program (4 percent). Far fewer choose combating terrorism in the Middle East (6 percent) or ending the Syrian conflict (5 percent) as a priority.
  • Asked their perception of current joint efforts, Americans are decisively more likely to say that Russia is working at odds with the United States on reducing nuclear weapons worldwide (50 percent different, 29 percent same), ending the conflict in Syria (56 percent vs. 22 percent), and combating terrorism in the Middle East (45 percent vs. 34 percent).
     

For full findings and report methodology, please view the report here.

About the Chicago Council on Global Affairs
The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. We convene leading global voices and conduct independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. Ranked No. 1 Think Tank to Watch worldwide, the Council on Global Affairs is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business and governments engage the world. Learn more at thechicagocouncil.org and follow @ChicagoCouncil.

About the Levada-Center
The Levada-Center is one of the leading research organizations in Russia that conduct mass public surveys, expert and elite surveys, depth interviews, focus groups as well as other survey methods. Staff of the center brings together experts in the field of sociology, political science, economics, psychology, market research, and public opinion polls. Polling results and expertise of the Center’s staff is broadly covered by national and international media such as Kommersant, Vedomosti, RBC, The Economist, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Reuters, BBC Radio, Radio Liberty, and others. Learn more at levada.ru and follow @levada_ru or on Facebook.