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Unlike many geopolitical events, the war in Ukraine is an easy one for most Americans to understand and process. There's an obvious villain in Vladimir Putin and a hero in Ukrainian President Zelensky. Unlike previous eras, we don't have to imagine the kind of destruction taking place in cities across this European country. Instead, images of suffering and devastation are being recorded and distributed globally in real-time.
It's little wonder, then, that poll after poll finds Americans across the political spectrum united in supporting punishing sanctions against Russia and increased foreign aid to besieged Ukrainians.
But, this unity of purpose hasn't resulted in more 'domestic tranquility' at home. Patrick Murray, the director of the Monmouth Poll, wrote this week that when they asked respondents to use a word to describe the state of the country, the most common response was "divided." And, while "fewer Americans feel we are becoming more divided than we have been over the past few years," Murray wrote, "this disunity remains the dominant image of the state of the country."
This helps to explain the seeming contradiction of American voters who, one the one hand, support the actions the Biden Administration is taking against Russia, yet also tell pollsters they disapprove of the job the president is doing.
Americans may be rallying around the flag, but they aren’t rallying around the president. The Monmouth survey as well as new surveys from Pew and Quinnipiac find Biden's job approval ratings anywhere between 38 and 43 percent, virtually unchanged from his pre-war standing.
The most recent Pew poll found "a correlation between Biden's overall job rating and views of his administration's response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine." About two-thirds of those who disapprove of Biden's overall job performance also disapprove of the administration's Ukraine response. Meanwhile, those who approve of Biden, also overwhelmingly approve of how he's handling the Ukrainian crisis. In other words, the world may have changed, but that hasn't changed the way most Americans view the president.
Among those who disapprove of the president, for example, a pretty substantial 22 percent support the actions he and his administration are taking in Ukraine. In other words, these voters' agree that the administration is doing the right thing in punishing Putin or sending materials and money to Ukraine, but are also sticking by their pre-war opinions of Biden's ineffectiveness.
This disconnect isn't all that new. During Donald Trump's tenure, many voters approved of the job the then-president was doing on the economy while also saying they didn't approve of the way he was behaving as president. Many of those voters ended up voting for Biden in 2020.
GOP strategist Sarah Longwell said that in focus groups she's conducted, she found that swing voters (those who voted Trump 2016 and Biden 2020) "generally think Biden is doing things well with Ukraine." But, she added, that they also see in Biden a strain of weakness.
"When Biden first got elected, I knew someone was going to test him," said one of these swing voters, "I thought it'd be Xi or Putin." Another female swing voter told Longwell that "Putin decided to do it because he sees Biden as a weak president." But, this woman quickly added, "If Trump were in office, we would have started World War 3." Another swing voter responded to Trump's recent comments about Putin being a "genius" saying that it makes him "feel good that I voted for Biden."
So, while Biden may not have enough swagger for these voters, it doesn't mean they are pining for a return of Trump.
Republican voters have also cooled in their embrace of Trump's brand of nationalism and isolationism. For example, back in February of 2021, a Pew poll found that more than two-thirds of Republicans thought that the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on our problems here at home, while just 32 percent said it's best for the future of our country to be active in world affairs. Today, however, nearly three-quarters of Republicans (73 percent) say that working closely with allies to respond to the Russian invasion is the right approach.
Republican opinions of U.S. cooperation with NATO, an institution that President Trump called 'obsolete,' are now overwhelmingly positive. The Pew poll found 75 percent of Republicans and 81 percent of Democrats agree with the decision to keep a large number of U.S. military forces in NATO countries near Ukraine.
Another reason for the bipartisan support for U.S. actions thus far is that it doesn't involve American military personnel. Even as Americans are more supportive of cooperation with NATO countries, they have no appetite for sending American troops into another European land war. If Americans start fighting and dying overseas, opinions about America's 'role in the world' are likely to shift.
Overall, it's important to remember that most Americans don't have fixed opinions on foreign policy. Instead, their opinions are impacted by real-world events. Trump's isolationism and nationalism were attractive to many voters who had grown weary of the blood and treasure the U.S. was spending in endless wars in middle eastern countries. China, not Russia, was seen by many as our biggest geopolitical threat. As such, there's a good chance that opinions not just of this current conflict, but of those in the future, will be just as fluid.