Russia’s war on Ukraine has unified Americans and bolstered support for President Joe Biden, whose endorsement numbers have soared after months of sinking, according to the latest PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll.
About half of the American public – 52% – said this week they support Biden’s handling of the situation in Ukraine. Two weeks ago, as Russia grew increasingly aggressive towards its neighbor and had yet to invade, that number was much lower – around a third said they approved of its leadership in the face of the looming crisis .
Regardless of age, race, location, income or politics, most Americans say they support economic sanctions against Russia and are willing to pay higher prices for fuel. But they also fear that Russia could use malicious force beyond neighboring Ukraine and threaten the United States and its allies with cyberattacks, nuclear weapons or broader war.
The extraordinary shift in public unity and support for Biden reflects the moment. Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to continue the war against Ukraine has thrown the region into chaos and displaced more than a million Ukrainians. In Russia, this prompted a rapid crackdown on protests and independent news; access to outside information in Russia has been almost completely cut off. But it’s also done more than anything else for decades to unite Europe, NATO and the global community against Putin and his brutal authoritarian regime.
Biden’s bounce in endorsement
Taken within 24 hours of Biden delivering his State of the Union address on March 1, the poll found about half of American adults — 47% — approved of his job as president so far, up 8 percentage points from 39% two weeks ago. .
A jump in the number of approvals of this magnitude is “a significant rebound”, said Lee Miringoff, who heads the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. “It’s an opportunity for him. It is a reset of its figures and a rallying point as far as Ukraine is concerned.
During his speech, Biden assured the American people that the US military would not fight Russian forces in Ukraine but would defend “every square inch” of territory held by NATO allies with “the full force of our collective might.” “. He also said economic sanctions on Russia would render “Putin’s $630 billion war fund worthless”, and announced that the United States was closing its airspace to Russia.
“When the history of this era is written, Putin’s war on Ukraine will have weakened Russia and strengthened the rest of the world,” Biden said.
Over the past week, the onslaught of news about Russia’s war in Ukraine and the White House’s response may have helped reduce the percentage of people who were unsure of their feelings about Biden’s management, falling from 16% to 4% in the past two weeks.
Biden has also taken more punitive measures since Putin ordered his army to invade Ukraine on February 24. Overall, 46% of Americans say Biden’s handling has been about right, including 79% of Democrats. Forty-three percent of American adults think the US president is too cautious, including 73% of Republicans, while very few Americans – 6% – think he is too aggressive.
WATCH: Volodymyr Zelensky’s unlikely rise from comedian to warlord of a rebel nation
Despite his spike in overall approval, the American public is not entirely convinced of Biden’s ability to lead and has been split in this latest poll on whether he has strengthened or weakened the country’s presence on the World Scene.
Forty-five percent of American adults say he has strengthened the nation’s position, including 86 percent of Democrats. That figure is down from 50% in July 2021, weeks before the US military withdrew from Afghanistan. At this point in Biden’s presidency, 51% of American adults believe he has weakened the nation’s standing, including 87% of Republicans. In this area, Biden retains slightly higher public trust than his predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who 54% of American adults said damaged the country’s reputation in July 2018.
Worries about war growing beyond Ukraine
Under Putin’s leadership, the Russian military has made many missteps in its campaign against Ukraine, said Michael Kofman, who directs the Russian Studies research program for the Center for Naval Analysis. Putin and his military strategists have seriously underestimated Ukrainian resistance, and ill-prepared Russian troops are demoralized, Kofman said.
Although it remains unclear how Putin is “going to stay in power” after so many “miscalculations”, Kofman said there were no signs he was ready to back down and that he could instead take advantage of Russia’s deep weapons reserves. Kofman said he believed Russia could pursue an urban assault on Kiev, “which they see as the center of gravity”, thanks in part to the leadership and resistance of Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky, who remained in the Ukrainian capital despite efforts to assassinate him. . The move could mimic the siege and demolition of the Chechen capital of Grozny by Russia in 2000, Kofman added.
“This war is getting uglier and uglier,” he said. “The worst is probably yet to come.”
Seven in 10 Americans have expressed concern that Russia may use nuclear weapons as its invasion stalls. Putin alluded to that possibility, including hours after ordering his military to launch missile strikes against Ukraine, when he warned that nations that interfere with Russia would suffer “consequences that you don’t have ever seen”.
Seventy-eight percent of Americans are also worried about the possibility of Russian cyberattacks and a wider war breaking out in Europe.
READ MORE: How to help Ukrainians and refugees fleeing conflict with Russia
But the way forward is not predetermined. Thinking about what might erupt next, Kofman said he had seen “wars go on for years and destroy countries. Let’s hope that doesn’t happen in Ukraine.
Eight out of 10 American adults support economic sanctions against Russia. This support transcends demographic categories and partisan politics.
A majority of the American public is also ready to go further – 69% said they support sanctions even if they lead to higher energy prices at home.
The rise in energy prices — from $3.49 a gallon of regular gasoline on Feb. 14 to $3.61 two weeks later — that Americans are already seeing when they stop at the pumps are more likely “a consequence of the war” — including the bombing of Ukrainian oil reserves — than of Biden’s policies, says economist Georgy Egorov, who teaches at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
WATCH: How high could gasoline prices rise as sanctions escalate on Russia?
“The price we see now – this is the result of war and the uncertainty of the future of the world,” Egorov said. “I don’t think it’s the result of the sanctions.”
Sanctions that restrict Russian oil exports might have a more immediate effect, he said, but they won’t upend Putin’s regime quickly. These actions could further isolate Putin and “make him vulnerable to internal pressures and unrest”, Egorov said. With casualties mounting, especially among Russians, Egorov predicted that the war would erode Putin’s hold on the country.
“Even dictators care about popular support,” he said.
PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist Poll conducted a survey on March 1 and 2 of 1,322 American adults (margin of error 3.8 percentage points) and 1,237 registered voters (margin of error 4.0 points percentage).