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Americans are deeply unsettled by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to invade neighboring Ukraine, a just-released I&I/TIPP Poll shows. The March public opinion survey shows Americans fear a widening of the conflict could lead to the involvement of U.S. troops and even the use of nuclear weapons by Putin’s Russia.
President Joe Biden’s White House and its supporters in Congress are telling a story of America boldly stepping up to lead Europe in its response to the threat of an aggressive Russia. It’s been repeated by some in the mainstream media.
But a solid majority of Americans are focused on something very different: They worry that a desperate Putin might resort to nuclear weapons.
Those responding to the poll who were following the Russia-Ukraine situation were asked the following: “(Russian) President Putin has placed his nuclear weapons on high alert. How likely do you think he will use nuclear weapons in the current conflict?”
The answer: A shocking 56% said it was “likely,” with 21% saying it was “very likely” and 35% saying “somewhat likely.” Just 31% said it was “not likely.”
Respondents who followed the Russia-Ukraine situation were also asked to what extent they agreed or disagreed with the following statement: “The disorderly withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Afghanistan emboldened Russia to invade Ukraine.”
The response shows the White House has an uphill battle in its public relations campaign: 56% said they either agree “strongly” (30%) or “somewhat” (26%) that the botched departure from Afghanistan encouraged Putin to move against Ukraine. Only 32% disagreed with that statement.
Meanwhile, 78% of those who were following the Russia-Ukraine situation agreed “the situation in Ukraine will develop into a larger regional conflict that could lead to the U.S. military getting involved.” Only 14% said they disagreed with that statement, while 9% were “unsure.”
Strikingly, there was largely bipartisan agreement on this, with more than 70% of Democrats, Republicans, and independents agreeing.
Are Americans unnecessarily fearful, perhaps not understanding the situation? Hardly.
We also asked them how closely they were following news about the situation in Ukraine right now: 73% said they were following “closely,” while just 24% said they weren’t. Only 3% said they weren’t sure.
So people know what’s going on, for the most part. And again, it isn’t just one group paying attention. It’s tripartisan.
So Americans are unusually focused on this story, seeing Russia’s invasion of a sovereign neighbor as a clear danger to our national security and world peace.
But, as the data show, they also see the linkage between the invasion of Ukraine and Biden’s debacle in Afghanistan. The U.S. abandoned its allies in that nation to the murderous Taliban, while leaving thousands of Americans and U.S. visa holders stranded, along with some $80 billion in U.S. military equipment.
In Ukraine, Russian troops are now shelling major civilian areas and have even hit two nuclear facilities, including the infamous Chernobyl nuclear plant, as they attempt to overcome surprisingly strong resistance from Ukraine troops and civilians.
The West has hit Russia with significant sanctions, including removal from the SWIFT global payments system. Putin has warned that the broad economic, diplomatic and cultural boycott put in place by the EU, Britain, and the U.S. verges on an act of war.
A host of major corporations, banks, tech companies, and even news organizations have suspended operations in Russia, leaving the country economically isolated and cut off from the West. The boycott represents a serious threat to Russia, whose GDP of an estimated $1.5 trillion is dwarfed by the U.S. GDP of $20 trillion, along with the combined GDP of NATO countries.
NATO has rejected a no-fly zone over Ukraine, fearing escalation of the conflict after Putin put his troops on nuclear alert. That said, the U.S. over the weekend gave Poland a “green light” to send fighter jets to Ukraine, and more military aid from the U.S. and Europe is flooding in.
Even so, Democrats and Republicans alike in Congress have inveighed against sending U.S. troops to engage Russia on the ground. And, as our data show above, there seems to be a broad political consensus among average Americans to be cautious.
For while NATO and the U.S. hold a significant military edge over Russia in both troops and arms, Russia remains one of the most potent nuclear forces on Earth.
A recent piece in Newsweek sums up the NATO-Russia military gap, based on data from the Statista web site:
NATO allies together have a personnel count of 5.41 million, compared to Russia’s 1.35 million, according to the graphic that was the same as Statista’s figures.
It also found NATO allies had 144,000 armored units, more than double that of Russia’s 60,000, again a similar number to Statista.
NATO once more outnumbered Russia with 20,700 aircraft, a factor of nearly five to one when compared to Russia’s 4,170.
Russia is also outnumbered in regard to its naval forces, which number 605 — far lower than NATO’s 2,049 — once again a similar number to Statista.
But Russia holds an edge, as noted, in nuclear weapons: NATO nations have roughly 6,065 nuclear weapons, compared to Russia’s 6,255. A regional war that turned into a nuclear conflagration is a preventable disaster, Americans seem to agree.
The data in this story come from the I&I/TIPP Poll, which was conducted online from Mar. 2-4 and includes responses from 1,318 adults from across the country. The poll has a margin of error of +/- 2.8 percentage points.
As a service to our readers, I&I/TIPP will continue to provide timely and informative data from our monthly polls on this topic and others of major interest. TIPP has earned a reputation for excellence by being the most accurate pollster for the past five presidential elections.
Terry Jones is editor of Issues & Insights. His four decades of journalism experience include serving as national issues editor, economics editor, and editorial page editor for Investor’s Business Daily.