07.11.23 USA Review

Traces of Trumpism: The Ukrainian counteroffensive's failures is evident within the US election battle and may weaken American support for Ukraine

A Gallup poll conducted in late October has revealed that under the influence of isolationist rhetoric from Trump and his supporters, American public opinion has shifted towards greater scepticism about the country’s support for Ukraine. The percentage of those who believe that the support provided is excessive has grown among Republicans and non-partisan respondents, while the Republican majority which had been divided earlier in the summer is now consolidating around pro-Trump positions. Nonetheless, the majority of Americans still express support for Ukraine's efforts to reclaim occupied territories, although the advantage of this group is shrinking. This shift appears to be a natural response to the apparent failure of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, as well as a wave of pessimism in Western media and political circles, exacerbated by pre-election divisions within the American political landscape. A crucial question is whether this trend will continue in November under the pressure of Republican isolationism or if it has already reached its nadir, with the pro-Ukraine party finding a new perspective to support Ukraine's fight against Russian aggression.

Recent weeks have been marked by a growing wave of pessimism concerning Ukraine and its ability to either confront Russia or alter the course of the conflict in its favour. An article in Time magazine portrayed President Zelensky's recent visit to the United States in gloomy terms, citing his remarks about the world having 'grown accustomed to the war' and that 'none of the world leaders' believe in Ukraine's victory. The NBC News channel quoted its sources as saying that US and European officials began discussing the possibility of peaceful negotiations with Russia during a meeting of the 'Ramstein' group in October. The New York Times asserted that Biden's aides do not believe that either side is currently capable of significantly shifting the frontlines. Even the Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, Valeriy Zaluzhnyi, admitted in an interview with The Economist that the situation on the frontlines had reached an impasse, and positional warfare could drag on for years unless the Ukrainian army can employ fundamentally new technologies in areas such as drones, electronic warfare, and demining.

This wave, on the one hand, reflects disappointment in the outcome of the Ukrainian counteroffensive and is intended to bring this topic to a close, and on the other hand, it resonates with the rhetoric within pre-election battles in the United States. For the past two months, American media has been reporting a decline in public sympathy for Ukraine, but as Re:Russia noted in a recent overview, US public opinion polls conducted in late summer and early autumn do not provide sufficient grounds for such claims. However, the Gallup poll conducted in late October sheds light on shifts that can be defined as the 'Trumpist influence', illustrating the influence of political debates on public opinion in the United States.

According to the survey, 41% of those polled believe that the US is doing 'too much' to support Ukraine, with only a quarter still thinking that the support is inadequate, and a third (33%) believing that the assistance provided is just right. This represents a significant change from June, when those who believed the support was inadequate (26%) and those who thought it was excessive (29%) were nearly equal, and the majority of respondents considered the level of support to be appropriate (41%).

'Reflecting on the Russia-Ukraine war, do you think the US is doing too much to help Ukraine, not enough, or as much as is needed?', 2022-2023, % of those surveyed

The main proponents of the view that aid to Ukraine is excessive and ineffective in American politics are Donald Trump and the Trumpist faction of the Republican Party (as previously discussed by Re:Russia). The marked increase in those who think the aid is excessive in the Gallup poll is attributed to the rising proportions of Republicans (62% in October compared to 50% in June) and independent voters (44% in October compared to 34% in June). Thus, the divided Republican majority that was seen earlier in the summer is gradually consolidating around Trump's positions and influencing independent voters, among whom the share of sceptics is increasing at almost the same rate as among Republicans (10 percentage points versus 12).

However, according to the same poll, the majority of Americans (54%) still support Ukraine's aim to reclaim all the occupied territories, even if it means prolonging the war. In contrast, 43% prioritise a swift resolution at the expense of territorial concessions. In August 2022, two thirds of Americans (66%) held the first view, while in June 2023, 62% did, as opposed to 36% who favoured a quicker peace. In the past four months, there has been a more significant shift in favour of 'peaceniks' than in the preceding ten months. This shift has also been driven by both Republicans (increasing from 49% to 55%) and independent voters (rising from 43% to 49%).

61% of Gallup respondents (84% of Republicans) believe that the financial assistance Ukraine receives from Washington should have limits, while 37% of Americans (and 65% of Democrats) think that aid should continue for as long as necessary. Notably, the United States is the largest donor to Ukraine. According to an analysis by Christoph Trebesch published on VoxUkraine, over half of all Western commitments to Kyiv have come from Washington. Donald Trump has also weighed in on this issue, suggesting that the burden of assistance should be more equitably shared with Europe, for which this conflict holds greater significance.

The lack of clear prospects for the end of the war contributes to the diminishing resolve to support Ukraine. Regardless of party affiliation, 64% of respondents are convinced that neither Ukraine nor Russia holds the upper hand on the battlefield, which is an increase of 7-percentage-points since June. The highest proportion of those who believe in Ukraine's ultimate victory is found among Democrats. While 32% of Democrats surveyed think Ukraine has an advantage in the current phase of the conflict, but only half as many Republican and independent voters share this view.

However, the decline in the level of support for Ukraine within American society does not appear critical; rather, it highlights the need for adjustments in pro-Ukraine rhetoric and a clearer understanding of the objectives of this support. In the context of the failures of the Ukrainian counteroffensive, such a decrease seems natural. It is crucial to determine whether this trend will continue in November under the pressure of Trump's isolationist rhetoric or if it has already reached its nadir, whether the pro-Ukraine camp can find a new perspective from which to support Ukraine's resistance to Russian aggression.