The Cold War may have been over for 20 years but opinions of Russia are starting to chill, with a new opinion poll indicating that overall U.S. opinions of Russia and President Vladimir Putin have soured for the first time in 15 years.
According to Gallup, more Americans now perceive Russia as unfriendly to or an enemy of the United States. Half of all Americans see Russia as antithetical to U.S. interests compared to 44% who see Russia as a friend or ally. Americans had shown a favorable rating of Russia since 1999, with 52% considering Russia a friend or ally as recently as June.
The survey was conducted Sept. 15 and 16, well after an opinion-editorial penned by Putin appeared in the New York Times last week. In that piece, the Russian president attempted to reconnect with Americans over shared history defeating the Nazis in World War II in an attempt to draw support for his diplomatic proposal for Syria to hand over its chemical weapons.
That piece did Putin no favors with American politicians, with widespread condemnation of Putin’s attacks on “American exceptionalism” from the likes of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said he was “insulted” by the editorial.
Americans in general seem to share the sentiment, with 53% holding an unfavorable opinion of Putin compared to just 19% who see him favorably. The last time Gallup asked for U.S. opinions of Putin in 2003, it was 38% favorable to Putin and 28% unfavorable.
That hasn’t stopped Americans from still supporting Putin’s plan for Syria’s chemical weapons handover, with 72% approving of the plan compared to 18% who disapprove. Half of Americans thought Putin’s involvement in the Syria crisis was helpful compared to 36% who called it harmful.
U.S. opinions of Russia have been in steady decline from a 2006 peak when 73% saw Russia as a friend or ally.
Seven years later, Americans seem to be agreeing more and more with former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, who famously drew mockery and guffaws when he referred to Russia last March as the United States’ “number one geopolitical foe.”
Since that time, Russia has resisted U.S. efforts against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, working to keep him in power even while trying to negotiate a handover of Syria’s chemical weapons. Russia has used its permanent member veto to resist efforts in the U.N. Security Council to authorize the use of force in the event Syria changes its mind on a handover.
Russia has also argued that the believed August chemical weapon attack that spurred President Barack Obama to consider a military strike was carried out not by Assad’s forces but by the rebel forces attempting to oust him from power.
Nor has Syria been the only point of contention between the U.S. and Russia, with a majority of Americans, 64%, disapproving of the asylum Russia granted to NSA leaker Edward Snowden. Obama and others have also been critical of Russian human rights issues, namely the banning of “propaganda” by gays and lesbians. Of the Americans who’d heard of that ban and other actions against gays and lesbians in Russia, 69% disapproved of Russia’s policies.
This is Putin’s third term in office, having pushed through a change to the Russian constitution that allowed him to return as president after hitting a term limit that forced him to swap with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
The Gallup poll has a sampling error of +/- 4% and was conducted via telephone interviews Sept. 15-16, 2013, with a random sample of 1,010 adults age 18 and over across all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.