25.10.23 USA Review

The Fatigue Myth: Claims of reduced support for Ukraine in the US are not substantiated by the polls

The talk of American war fatigue and diminishing support for Ukraine, which has become commonplace in American media, seems to be more of a reflection of the expectations of experts, journalists, and politicians rather than the reality of public opinion. The polls demonstrate that despite declining attention to Ukrainian issues and its news coverage, support for Ukraine among Americans remains high and bipartisan. Lower support for active aid among Republicans can be attributed to their scepticism of the Biden administration and their traditional isolationist tendencies. However, even among this group, as well as among non-partisan respondents, the slight decline in support over the past year is more indicative of the routinisation of the Ukrainian issue rather than a significant shift in sentiment. Moreover, it is unlikely that Americans would oppose an expansion of aid. The ongoing conflict in the Middle East has not had any visible impact on public opinion regarding support for Kyiv. Assistance to Ukraine remains a priority shared by the majority of Americans, even though the level of consensus on this issue is slightly lower than the issue of aid to Israel.

On Friday, the White House submitted a budget request of $105 billion to Congress, bundling together funds earmarked for aid to Israel, Ukraine, and even Taiwan, as well as humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip and strengthening the US-Mexico border. An express poll commissioned by CNBC reveals that the allocation of funds for aid to Israel enjoys the highest approval among Americans (74%), along with humanitarian aid and border reinforcement (both at 72%). 61% of those polled support providing aid to Ukraine, while only 52% support aid for Taiwan.

An earlier poll, conducted from October 12-16, by Quinnipiac University shows that the level of public support for the Biden administration's Ukraine policy is even higher (47%) than the level of support for his Israel policy (42%). The Israel issue proves to be more divisive, with 36% of non-partisan Americans, 26% of Republicans, and only 68% of Democrats supporting Biden on this topic. In contrast, 46% of non-partisan voters, 17% of Republicans, and 81% of Democrats approve of Biden's policy toward Ukraine. It is worth noting that there is an age gap on both issues, albeit of different scales: among respondents aged 18-34, only 20% support Biden's policy towards Israel, while 40% support his policy towards Ukraine. Among older age groups (65+), 60% approve of both positions.

Discussions in the American media about the decline in support for Ukraine in the United States have become commonplace. However, a careful analysis of survey data reveals that these assessments are exaggerated and reflect the expectations of the press and a part of the political establishment rather than actual shifts in public sentiment. This perspective is shared by analysts at the Atlantic Council in their report 'Are Americans More Supportive of Ukraine than Congress is?'

Indeed, in a Quinnipiac University poll conducted after the publication of the Atlantic Council's report, almost two-thirds of respondents (65%) stated that supporting Ukraine is in the national interest of the United States. Even among Republicans, half of those surveyed (49%) share this view, while 87% of Democrats and nearly two-thirds (63%) of independent voters hold this view. Meanwhile, 36% believe that the US is doing enough to help Ukraine, while 37% think it is doing too much, and 20% believe it is doing too little. Thus, further expansion of support is unlikely to gain approval from Americans, but talk of its decline also exaggerates the observed shifts. In general, American public support for Ukraine remains high and bipartisan, the analysts at the Atlantic Council insist. Republicans show a lower level of support for Ukraine compared to Democrats, but this is related to their preference for a more isolationist foreign policy. They are more willing to support Ukraine than any other country, excluding Israel. In a September survey conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs (CCGA), 63% of those surveyed supported 'sending additional weapons and military supplies to the Ukrainian government'. The same proportion approved of 'continuing military support to Ukraine in next year’s federal budget' in an August Change-Razom survey. In the CCGA survey, military aid to Ukraine was supported by 50% of Republicans, 77% of Democrats, and 60% of independent voters, while the Change-Razom survey showed that 41% of Republicans polled, 87% of Democrats, and 52% of independent voters supported additional military aid to Ukraine.

However, since last November, the percentage of Americans willing to provide further economic assistance to Ukraine has only decreased by 3 percentage points among Republicans (from 50% to 47%), 5 points among Democrats (from 81% to 76%), and 6 points among independent voters (from 64% to 58%). On the issue of the provision of additional weapons to Ukraine, since November 2022, there has been some decline among Republicans (from 55% to 50%), no change among Democrats, and a small decline among independent voters (from 63% to 60%), which is close to the margin of error. This cannot be considered a significant change, especially given the amount of aid that has been provided in the time since. This downward trend, as Re:Russia has previously reported, more likely reflects a general decline in attention to the Ukrainian issue. Interest in news about the Russia-Ukraine war has dropped by 13 percentage points among Democrats (from 90% to 77%), 19 points among Republicans (from 85% to 66%), and 16 points among independent voters (from 78% to 62%), according to the CCGA survey.

The polls indicate that the percentage of Americans who believe that aid to Ukraine was 'worth it' remains stable. According to the Reagan Institute, in June, 50% of Americans held this belief (65% of Democrats and 41% of Republicans). The figure increased when respondents were informed that Ukraine has managed to significantly weaken the Russian military at the cost of only 3% of the US defence budget. Change-Razom posed the same question to its respondents and obtained similar results. The total number of respondents who believed that aid to Kyiv 'was worth the money' increased from 46% to 57% (from 52% to 62% among Democrats and from 45% to 56% among Republicans).

Undoubtedly, different question framings tied to various aspects of the American domestic agenda yield corresponding shifts in the results, but in this case, there is no particular dynamism to observe. In the Change-Razom survey, 59% of respondents (52% of independent voters, 50% of Republicans, and 71% of Democrats) stated that they would support the cessation of military aid to Ukraine only when the 'region becomes stable, and Russia withdraws from all Ukrainian territory'. However, when CCGA asked whether the US should 'support Ukraine as long as it is needed, even if it means American households paying more for gasoline and groceries,' support decreased. In September, only 47% of respondents said they were willing to bear such costs: 62% of Democrats (compared to 61% in November of the previous year), 46% of independent voters (with no change), and 30% of Republicans (33% in November).

At the same time, most Americans see Ukraine as a long-term partner and a potential ally. Recent research by the German Marshall Fund (GMF) indicates that between half and two-thirds of Americans want to see Ukraine in NATO (61%), support its membership in the European Union (58%), and are in favour of US financial assistance in its recovery (57%). Support for Ukraine's NATO and EU membership is strong even among Republican Party supporters, with 59% of Republicans surveyed expressing support for its NATO accession (compared to 74% among Democrats), with only 29% opposing it. This low level of opposition may seem small given the well-known scepticism about NATO under former President Donald Trump and his renewed popularity among Republicans in the run-up to the presidential elections.

Therefore, when looking at the aggregate results of the surveys from the past three to four months, there is no clear trend indicating a decrease in support for Ukraine. The onset of the war in Israel and Gaza has not led to any significant changes in the situation. There is greater consensus in responses to the question of whether support for Israel aligns with US national interests: according to the Quinnipiac University poll, 84% of Republicans, 76% of Democrats, and 74% of independent voters respond positively. However, attitudes toward the Israeli-Arab conflict appear more mixed. 61% of Americans say their sympathies lie with Israel, but only 48% of Democrats feel this way. Among young Americans, 41% express sympathy for Israel, while 26% sympathise with the Palestinians. A greater number of Americans believe that the US should adopt a more neutral position in this conflict, exerting pressure on both sides (36%, according to the CNBC survey).