19.06.23 USA Review

Uncertain America: the number of Americans who think aid to Ukraine is excessive has almost stopped growing, but debates about the scale and purpose of this assistance will continue

The percentage of Americans who view the aid to Ukraine as excessive has risen from 26% to 28% in six months, despite a significant increase in the scale of military assistance over this same period. Among Republicans, 44% of voters hold this belief, but even here, the growth rate of 'Ukraine sceptics' has slowed dramatically, despite criticism of the Biden administration by party leaders. Meanwhile, Americans' attention to the war in Ukraine continues to decline. This can be attributed to their growing scepticism about Russia's capabilities, which has resulted in a decreased proportion viewing Russia's aggression against Ukraine as a major threat to American interests. This trend will be reinforced in the run-up to the elections by those groups within the American establishment who believe that the protracted conflict in Ukraine hinders the United States from fully focusing on the strategic containment of China.

Approximately half of Americans (47%) believe that the level of support the United States is providing to Ukraine is either at a sufficient level (31%) or could even be increased (16%). According to a June survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, 28% consider the aid excessive. Compared to the previous round of polling conducted in January, the share of the latter group has increased by 2 percentage points.

The January survey alarmed politicians and the public alike, as it demonstrated an increase in the share of Americans who viewed aid to Ukraine as excessive, rising from 20% to 26%. Further, in January, the proportion of sceptics grew not only among Republicans (from 32% to 40%) but also among Democrats (from 11% to 15%). In the June survey, the increase in sceptics among Republicans was much smaller (+4 pp), and there was no increase among Democrats at all. It should be noted that in the first half of this year, America significantly expanded its military aid to Ukraine, with tank and heavy weaponry deliveries commencing and discussions on aircraft deliveries no longer taboo. In this context, Ukraine should consider the minimal increase in the share of 'Ukraine sceptics' a positive sign.

As seen in the graph below, as the war in Ukraine continues and the scale of American assistance increases, the percentage of Americans who believe that this assistance is excessive is growing. Surveys are conducted every four to five months: from May to September 2022, this share increased by 8 pp, and from September 2022 to January 2023, by 6 pp. Thus, in the latest round, we can observe a sharp deceleration of this trend.

Does the war in Ukraine pose a serious threat to US national interests? (% of respondents)

It is particularly interesting that, among those who believe that the aid is excessive, the growth of 'Ukraine sceptics' among Republicans has slowed down. From May to September 2022, their share nearly doubled (from 17% to 32%), then increased by 8 percentage points from September to January, but in the latest round, it rose by only 4 percentage points. However, the proportion of Republicans who believe that aid to Ukraine is excessive remains significant, with almost half of them holding this view (according to the Pew Research survey, this includes respondents who identified as Republicans or leaned Republican). Nevertheless, the deceleration in the growth of this group indicates the limits of Republican criticism of the Biden administration's Ukraine policy. As Re: Russia has previously discussed, among Republican politicians and voters, there are essentially two groups: 'isolationists' and 'hawks.' Both groups criticise the Democratic administration, but the former believes that aid to Ukraine diverts attention and resources from domestic issues, while the latter thinks it is not sufficiently effective in countering Russian aggression. If the share of those who consider the scale of aid excessive ceases to grow among supporters of both parties, the pressure on the Biden administration regarding Ukraine during the upcoming election period may not be as significant.

According to the June survey, slightly more Americans (39%) approve of the administration's policy towards Ukraine than disapprove of it (35%). However, compared to January, there has been a noticeable deterioration in this balance (43% approval versus 33% disapproval at that time). Predictably, the majority of Democrats (59%) view the policy positively, while only 16% are critical. Among Republicans, the situation is reversed: 57% disapprove of the policy, but nearly a quarter (23%) think it is the right approach, which is a noteworthy result.

However, the growth of 'Ukraine sceptics' may resume. This is indicated not only by the deterioration in the approval balance but also by the overall decline in Americans' attention to the topic of the war in Ukraine. Currently, 59% of respondents are closely following the conflict, whereas in January of this year, it was 65%, and in May 2022, it was 74%. The reason for this decline in interest lies in the reassessment of Russia's capabilities. Although President Putin and the Russian establishment continue to engage in nuclear scaremongering, the percentage of Americans who believe that Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a serious threat to US interests continues to decrease. In the June survey, 32% viewed it as a major threat, with an equal number considering it a minor threat. In January, these figures were 35% and 33%, respectively, and in March 2022, they were 50% and 28%. This decline in the latest survey was, however, primarily driven by Democrats. This trend will generally support the party among American politicians who believe that the war in Ukraine distracts the United States from strategic competition with China, and therefore, it is in America's interests to bring it to a swift conclusion, even if this is at the expense of Ukrainian interests.