Americans want to steer clear of Ukraine crisis
May 2nd, 2014
09:58 AM ET

Americans want to steer clear of Ukraine crisis

By Bruce Stokes, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Bruce Stokes is Director of Global Economic Attitudes at the Pew Research Center. The views expressed are his own.

As the crisis in Ukraine deepens, Americans back the kind of economic sanctions against Russia recently announced by the Obama administration. But even as allegations mount of covert Russian intervention in Ukraine, a war-weary American public doesn’t back getting tougher on Moscow. There is no appetite for significant military involvement in a region that few see as very important to U.S. interests. And even conservative Republicans oppose military assistance to Kiev, while Tea Party adherents are divided over the issue.

Yet, as with so many issues in Washington today, strong partisan differences are clear when it comes to whether President Obama is handling the crisis “about right” or is not being tough enough, according to a new survey by the Pew Research Center.

The repeatedly expressed public desire for a minimalist U.S. role in the Ukraine crisis complicates the domestic U.S. politics of the “new Cold War” for both the cautious Obama White House and conservative politicians, such as Sen. John McCain (R.-Az.), who back deeper U.S. involvement in the struggle.

Americans are often accused of not paying attention to the world. But nearly half of Americans have now heard a lot about tensions between Russia and Ukraine. This is an increase from roughly one-in-four who said they were following developments in Ukraine very closely in an early April Pew Research survey.

But while Americans may be paying more heed to the confrontation between Moscow and Kiev, they have yet to be convinced it poses a threat to America’s vital national interests. Only about a third of Americans think that what happens between Russia and Ukraine is “very important” to the United States. And about the same proportion say Ukraine is “not too important” or “not at all important” to American interests. Those Americans 50 years of age and older are twice as likely as younger Americans ages 18 to 29 to see Ukraine as having strong strategic importance. But even these more concerned older Americans represent a minority in their own age group.

Such sentiments fuel a desire for the United States to steer clear of the Ukraine situation. In a late March Pew Research survey, 52 percent of Americans said they did not want Washington to get too involved in the looming confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, a proportion roughly comparable to that which expressed the same sentiment in early March.

Nevertheless, in the most recent Pew Research survey, the public does support increased U.S. economic and diplomatic sanctions by a 53 percent to 36 percent margin. This includes 58 percent of Democrats, 55 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of adherents to the Tea Party. In late March, only a quarter of the public wanted to consider economic and political options to address the Ukraine situation. This may suggest the public is warming to non-lethal responses to Russia’s actions.

Meanwhile, there continues to be no public support for direct U.S. military intervention of any nature to defend Ukraine. In the latter part of March, only 6 percent of Americans wanted to consider military options, such as U.S. military boots on the ground. In the latest Pew Research survey, just under a third support sending arms and military supplies to the Kiev government, a course of action strongly advocated by McCain and other leading GOP officials. This includes just 45 percent of Tea Party sympathizers, 37 percent of Republicans and about a quarter of Democrats.

There is nothing new about Americans’ reluctance to come to Ukraine’s defense militarily. In September 1993, in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union and tensions over the dispersal of Kiev’s nuclear weapons, 69 percent of the American public disapproved of the use of U.S. forces if Russia invaded Ukraine, according to a Times Mirror survey at the time.

But there is a degree of partisanship, not over what to do about Ukraine, but about Obama’s handling of the issue, which suggests the rancor has more to do with the ongoing struggle between Republicans and the White House than with the confrontation with Russia. More than half of Republicans (55 percent) and two-thirds of people who sympathize with the Tea Party say Obama has not been tough enough in dealing with the situation in Ukraine, even though he seems to be doing what most Republicans want him to do and not doing what they oppose. Only a third of independents and 23 percent of Democrats say the president is not being tough enough. These views have remained steady over the past month.

In the weeks and months ahead, U.S. resolve in dealing with Russia over Ukraine will be sorely tested. Americans seem to have warmed to economic sanctions in the confrontation, but they still shy away from any form of military involvement, however minimal. If future White House actions track public opinion, the partisan clamor over Obama not being tough enough in dealing with Russian President Vladimir Putin may well continue, transforming a foreign policy challenge into yet another act in an ongoing, domestic partisan drama.

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Topics: Ukraine

soundoff (100 Responses)
  1. anti-racism

    Me to Mr. Kerry: stop giving our tax money away. we are not rich. people here in California need jobs. stop getting involved too much in that pile of cow poop. start thinking of some whatever projects that can create jobs. and how did he get involved in that foreign affair thing. losing that presidency race did show that he is not smart enough... stop blaming other countries for our economy failure, but start to think more about internal affair

    May 3, 2014 at 12:46 pm | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Well put, anti-racism. I fully agree as the true Joey here and not the clown who keeps on trying to tear down Gen. George Patton's good name here.

      May 3, 2014 at 1:54 pm | Reply
      • banasy©

        I'm sorry you have to steal another's identity.

        May 3, 2014 at 4:41 pm |
    • Stefan

      > stop getting involved too much in that pile of cow poop.

      Do not worry, it's exactly what we are trying to do to, no single drop of American blood; lets Slavs to kill each other; we just assist them to do it more efficiently... the barbecue from Colorado beetles in Odessa is quite promising, they did heir job with great enthusiasm...

      May 3, 2014 at 2:35 pm | Reply
    • tom

      How about giving that bid to make rocket engines to Tesla....He can make it better and cheaper than the Russians and do it right here in the USA.

      May 3, 2014 at 4:11 pm | Reply
  2. Joseph McCarthy

    Good grief,Not Alone. You must be a follower of Sarah Palain.

    May 3, 2014 at 4:28 pm | Reply
    • banasy©

      Who are you talking to? There's nobody by that name on this page.

      May 3, 2014 at 4:39 pm | Reply
  3. Thought Criminal

    No, no, no! The Military-Industrial Complex insists we must have WAR with Russia!

    May 3, 2014 at 5:20 pm | Reply
  4. chrissy

    @ jmc are you ranting just to entertain yourself??? WHAT war did POTUS Obama start anyway? All the wars we are presently involved in were started by dumbo GWB and all under the guise that it was a war on terrorists or WMDs!

    May 3, 2014 at 9:48 pm | Reply
  5. Jay W

    The media & the politicians seem to be beating the war drums again. War makes good ratings for cable news channels, the more blood and gore the better.

    I see the sad humanity on the faces of so many Ukrainians as their country spires into tragedy and they are caught in the crossfire between US and European ambitions and Russian bravado. Their sad country is being torn apart by ethnic hatred that is being encouraged by all outsiders including the American media.

    May all those who beat the war drums be cursed and blamed for the horrors they are encouraging.

    May 4, 2014 at 6:02 am | Reply
    • Joey Isotta-Fraschini

      Thank you, Jay W. Your post is one of the few here worth reading. Let's just hope that this mindless clown here keeps trolling people on this website gets banned but that"ll be only too good to be true. He thinks he's funny!

      May 4, 2014 at 9:22 am | Reply
      • George Patton

        Good post Joey. You said it all! I have called CNN, personally, and they said that they will look into the matter. Such twisted minds should not only be barred, but they shouldn't have a computer at all!

        May 4, 2014 at 9:37 am |
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Thank you Joey, George. That clown stealing people's screen names thinks he's funny. But he's not. I hope he gets barred and never returns. What a bozo!

        May 4, 2014 at 9:41 am |
  6. nickel007

    What happened in Ukraine can happen to the US if for any moment we can not longer keep every country on their borders. NATO was created to prevent another war capable leader to oppress other countries including the US. During WWI and WWII thousands of life perished, but yet many young people do not have a clue about the US roll in the eyes of the world because they do not learn history to understand why this country must get involved in other countries affairs as well. We live a non disturbed peace because of what our leaders do to keep us safe. That is how our new taxes money gets spent. That is the price we have to pay, because freedom is not really free. If our freedom would have been free, it would have been taken away from us long time ago. Wake up America!

    May 4, 2014 at 7:20 am | Reply
    • greg

      Well said, nickel007

      May 4, 2014 at 9:15 am | Reply
    • JC

      WWI occured because many of the countries who are current members of NATO were members of opposing alliances at the time. NATO was a response to the Warsaw Pact or was it vice versa? I can't remember. Corruption is the russian way. The people are numb to it's effects.

      Prosperous and law abiding countries have leaders with term limits.

      May 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm | Reply
  7. Joseph McCarthy

    Good grief Greg! That is the dumbest three word comment that I have ever red.

    May 4, 2014 at 9:44 am | Reply
  8. Joseph McCarthy

    I'm sorry greg, I meant "read" not "red"

    May 4, 2014 at 9:45 am | Reply
  9. chrissy

    Lol like the troll who posted as Joey? In FACT all posts this morning on this thread have been made by that very same derpasstroll til now! CNNs avatar does not lie ya clown!

    May 4, 2014 at 11:52 am | Reply
  10. Joseph McCarthy

    Good grief, chrissy. Have you gone mad? You obviously are a fan of Sarah Palin. There is no room for any of your mumble jumble here at all!

    May 4, 2014 at 10:54 pm | Reply
    • Joseph McCarthy

      The above is clearly not my post. This joker needs to be banned from this website as he is blogging under several names just to try to be funny. He(or she) is spoiling it for the rest of us!

      May 6, 2014 at 11:12 am | Reply
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