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Critical Issues Poll: Americans Less Enthusiastic About Bearing Cost of Ukraine Defense

Results Show Sharp Partisan Divide on War, Support for Israel

By Rachael Grahame ’17

child on a swing outside a residential building damaged  by a missile

A child plays outside a Kyiv building hit by Russian armaments in the early days of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. A new UMD Critical Issues Poll shows U.S. respondents still support the country's defense, but patience and willingness to pay may be in shorter supply now than in previous months.

Photo by Pierre Crom/Getty Images

Americans’ attitudes have shifted slightly on two major foreign affair issues, according to a new University of Maryland Critical Issues Poll with Ipsos: Respondents still express overall support for Ukraine, though their patience with the war and willingness to fund it are waning, and Democrats are increasingly willing to use the label “apartheid” to describe the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The key Ukraine-related finding of the March 27-April 5 poll, directed by Department of Government and Politics professors Shibley Telhami and Stella Rouse, became clear when responses were compared to Americans’ responses in previous poll iterations.

“After five polls probing the American public’s willingness to pay a cost for supporting Ukraine since the start of the Russian invasion in February 2022, we found for the first time a measurable decline,” said Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Chair for Peace and Development. “This seems to be highly correlated with a decline in the assessment that Russia is losing and Ukraine is winning."

Americans were roughly 10% less willing to bear high energy prices, increased inflation and risk the loss of U.S. troops in April 2023 than they were in October 2022. In a Brookings Institution article about the findings, Telhami wrote, “Perhaps the realization that there is no end in sight for the war at its first anniversary was sobering to some,” but he also noted that this cost-related dip in willingness could be explained by the fact that in April 2023, just 37% of Americans said they thought that Russia was losing (down from 48% in October) and only 26% said that Ukraine was succeeding (down from 43%).

“In the October poll, we noted stories stressing Ukrainian successes and Russian failures, which may have accounted for higher confidence in the outcome,” Telhami wrote.

Americans’ assessment of who is winning and who is losing the Ukraine-Russia conflict may also be impacting the amount of time Americans are willing to back the beleaguered nation. As of April 2023, only eight percentage points separated the share of Americans who want to support Ukraine for as long as it takes (38%) and that which only want the U.S. to support Ukraine for another one to two years (46%).

This difference was especially pronounced between Republicans and Democrats. The majority (62%) of Republican respondents said they wanted to stay the course for one to two years, while the majority (51%) of Democrat respondents said they wanted to stay the course for as long as it takes.

Key differences between Republicans and Democrats also emerged in responses to the poll’s questions about the Palestinian-Israeli issue.

More than half answered “I don’t know” to a question about whether they believe Israel is a vibrant democracy, a flawed democracy, a state with restricted minority rights or a state with segregation similar to apartheid.

However, among those who did have an opinion, their answers differed significantly by party. Forty-four percent of Democrats described Israel as “a state with segregation similar to apartheid,” and 34% as “a flawed democracy.” On the flip side, four in 10 Republicans described Israel as “a vibrant democracy,” and just two in 10 as “a state with segregation similar to apartheid.”

Similarly, when respondents were asked for their view on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, 65% said they were either unfamiliar or that they didn’t know. But, among those who did respond otherwise, there was again a marked difference by party affiliation: 65% of Republican respondents who expressed an opinion said they opposed BDS, whereas only 20% of Democrats said they opposed it compared to 41% who supported it.

“It is clear that public attitudes about Israel are shifting,” Telhami wrote in another Brookings article. “The term ‘apartheid’ appears to have become a common term among many Americans, especially Democrats, and even the BDS movement, which has faced considerable obstacles in the American mainstream, seems to have sizable support among Democrats who expressed their opinion.”



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