Analysis: How Republicans became more skeptical of Zelensky and Ukraine


Democrats welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Capitol on Thursday, while Republicans were much more divided. The division between the two parties is not surprising given the polling data on Zelensky in particular and on Russia’s war in Ukraine more generally.

It turns out that Republicans have become much more conciliatory on this conflict and on how they view the role of the United States in the world at large.

It may be hard to imagine today, but Zelensky was once admired on both sides of the political aisle. At the start of the war, Zelensky had a favorability rating of 77% among Democrats and 61% among Republicans, according to a March 2022 Quinnipiac University poll. Only 6% of Republicans and 2% of Democrats considered him with an evil eye.

But since then, the tone of Republican leaders has soured. Whether these officials are leading their voters or just following them, the poll numbers have changed considerably.

A July 2023 Gallup poll found that Zelensky’s approval rating among Republicans had fallen to 51%. Meanwhile, its unfavorable rating has climbed to 41%. This means that his net favorability with Republicans has gone from +55 points to +10 points in a little over a year.

Democratic leaders have been much more supportive of the Ukrainian leader, which might explain why their voters have also largely remained that way. Zelensky’s approval rating among Democrats was 75% in July, according to the Gallup poll – similar to 2022’s 77%, according to Quinnipiac. Although its unfavorable rating has increased, it remains low, at 11%.

The views toward Zelensky are emblematic of how Americans feel about U.S. involvement in the Ukraine-Russia conflict as a whole.

In early 2022, an Ipsos KnowledgePanel survey showed that 7% of Republicans and 6% of Democrats thought the United States should do less. Majorities on both sides believed that the United States should do more or do the same as them.

Fast forward to today, it’s a whole new world.

According to an August 2023 Fox News poll, a clear majority of Republicans (56%) agree that the United States should do less for Ukraine in order to help that country in its conflict with Russia. This represents an increase of almost 50 points from the start of the war. Only 41% think we should try more or the same, which is down 27 points from just over a year ago.

The Democratic numbers remained stable overall, as did on the Zelensky issue in particular. Most Democrats (83%) say we should do more or the same to help Ukraine, not much different from the 76% who wanted more or the same U.S. involvement in the war in 2022. A small minority (14%) of Democrats believe America should do less.

Republicans’ less charitable views of Zelensky and U.S. involvement in his country’s war against Russia do not mean they are siding with Russia. In fact, Russia’s approval rating among Republicans – and Democrats – has declined significantly compared to a few years ago.

According to a Gallup poll, only 6% of Republicans and Democrats have a favorable view of Russia in 2023, compared to 25% and 16% respectively in 2021. Overall, 9% of Americans have a favorable view of Russia – The lowest measure since 1989, when Gallup first asked about ratings favorable to the Soviet Union.

What’s really happening here is that the Republicans’ dovish turn toward the Ukraine-Russia conflict is not happening in a vacuum. It’s part of a broader desire among some Republicans to push the country off the world stage, according to Gallup.

In 2023, 61% of Republicans want America to play a leading or major role in world affairs. This is the lowest level this century and a significant drop from the 87% who thought this way 20 years ago.

Democrats, on the other hand, have remained broadly stable during this period. In Gallup polls from 2003 and 2023, 75% of Democrats agreed that America should play a leading or major role in world affairs.

This trend line may be somewhat surprising given the hawkish attitude of Republicans at the beginning of this century. In a way, though, they could follow the long historical arc. For example, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to say the Korean War was “unnecessary,” according to a 1951 Gallup poll.

The truth is that political coalitions change and change again. I wouldn’t be surprised if Democrats and Republicans exchange worldviews again in 20 years.


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