A new poll shows that Americans are becoming less supportive of punishing Russia for its invasion of Ukraine if it comes at the expense of the US economy, a sign of growing concern about inflation and other challenges.
While broad support for US sanctions has not wavered, the balance of opinion about prioritizing sanctions over the economy has shifted, according to the Associated Press-NORC Public Affairs Research Poll. Now 45% of US adults say the nation’s top priority should be to punish Russia as effectively as possible, while slightly more – 51% – say it should limit damage to the US economy.
In April, those numbers were completely reversed. In March, shortly after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, a clear majority – 55% – said the biggest priority should be to punish Russia as effectively as possible.
Shifts of opinion reflect how higher prices are affecting American households — rising costs for gas, groceries and other goods have strained the budgets of millions of people — and may limit their desire to support Ukraine financially. That could be a worrying sign for President Joe Biden, who on Saturday approved an additional $40 billion In financing to help Ukraine, including arms and financial assistance. The poll showed a lack of confidence in him to deal with the situation, and the public approval rating reached the lowest point of his presidency.
“We are killing ourselves,” said Janet Ellis Carter, a retired accountant who lives with her husband in Cincinnati, Ohio. “We can help others, but in helping others, we have to know how to help ourselves. And we don’t.”
Ellis Carter, 70, noted that annual inflation above 8% would wipe out any adjustment to the cost of living for retirees, especially as health care and food costs rise. She continues to do accounting work but has lost clients from small businesses that they can no longer afford to hire.
The poll shows that a large majority of American adults still support imposing sanctions on Russia, banning oil imports from Russia, and providing arms to Ukraine. Most American adults go on to say that the United States should have a role in the war between Russia and Ukraine: 32% say the United States should have a major role in the conflict, while 49% say it should have a secondary role.
But there is silent support for sending money directly to Ukraine. 44% of Americans said they would prefer sending money, 32% oppose it, and 23% neither support nor oppose it.
The new poll shows that only 21% of Americans say they have a “high amount of confidence” in Biden’s ability to handle the situation in Ukraine. 39% say they have some confidence and 39% say they have no confidence.
“Sometimes we get involved in things we really shouldn’t, and it will only make things worse,” said Angelica Christensen, 33, of Ithaca, New York. “We need to focus now on building our economy.”
American and European allies have imposed several rounds of sanctions on Russia, cutting off major banks from global dealings and directly tracking Russian President Vladimir Putin, senior leaders and their families. The United States also banned the import of Russian oil.
While Russian oil makes up a small portion of total US energy imports, the ban comes as gas prices have soared in recent months, driving down $4.71 a gallon, or $1.61 higher than last year. Supply chain problems and increased economic demand with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions have contributed to higher prices. Biden and many Democrats accused Price gouging for gas companies, while Republicans say the White House should support increased exploration for domestic oil and natural gas.
Overall, 45% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the United States’ relationship with Russia, while 54% disagree. This has remained stable every month since the conflict began. Seventy-three percent of Democrats and 15% of Republicans agree.
Shanta Bunyan, 43, of Loveland, Colorado, said she still supports Biden and believes he has done better than former President Donald Trump. I heard jokes that the most expensive place to visit in the city is the local gas station. But Bunyan, who spent years traveling abroad before the pandemic began and lived for a month in Moscow, said she believes the United States must continue to sacrifice to support the Ukrainian resistance.
“We seem to think that whatever is happening in the world is not going to affect us and that we are living in some kind of bubble,” she said. “It seems to me that anything that happens in the rest of the world will affect us. Unless we do something proactive, our economy will be affected anyway.”
But Jackie Perry, 62, of Center, Alabama, said that while she sympathized with the Ukrainians and believed Russia was not justified in launching its invasion, the White House needed to focus more on the economy. She had to reduce driving because fuel is expensive.
“You don’t have to worry about the price of gas,” she said of the Biden administration. “If they were more interested in the people they’re supposed to serve, our gas wouldn’t be that high.”
The AP-NORC survey was conducted of 1,172 adults May 12-16 using a sample taken from NORC’s AmeriSpeak Probability-Based Panel, which is designed to be representative of the US population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points.
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