A whopping 72 percent of Americans view Russia as an adversary rather than an ally, while more than six in 10 have a negative opinion toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, according to the latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll.
Meanwhile, Americans are split on President Barack Obama’s reaction to the Russian occupation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula – 43 percent approve and 40 percent disapprove of his handling of the crisis. Seventeen percent of Americans are unsure.
The number of Americans perceiving Russia as a foe is the highest it’s been since the poll began tracking this issue in 1995. That year, following the conclusion of the Cold War, 56 percent of Americans said Russia was an ally, and 35 percent said it was an adversary.
Almost two-thirds of Americans said they have a somewhat or very negative opinion of Putin.
In this survey, just 19 percent of respondents said they view Russia as a friend.
The new poll numbers reflect a sharp turn in opinion against Russia and its president as Western world leaders continue to decry the ongoing situation in Ukraine.
Putin broadly unpopular
Americans hold sharply negative views of Putin, even compared with former Soviet and Russian leaders.
Almost two-thirds of Americans – 63 percent – said they have a somewhat or very negative opinion of Putin; just 5 percent of Americans view the Russian leader positively.
Other Russian leaders have fared better in the NBC/WSJ poll. Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader who presided over the collapse of the communist regime, was viewed positively by 65 percent of Americans in August of 1991, when Gorbachev survived a coup attempt and set in motion the process of dissolving the Soviet Union.
Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin, was also seen favorably by Americans. Thirty-three percent of Americans viewed Yeltsin positively on average from NBC/WSJ polls from 1990-1995. Thirteen percent of Americans viewed Yeltsin unfavorably.
Americans split on action
As the crisis in Ukraine persists, Americans have mixed views of how Obama has handled the situation.
While the nation is split on the president’s actions, Americans are nonetheless closely monitoring the situation in Eastern Europe: 89 percent of Americans said they are monitoring news coverage about Russia’s incursion into Ukraine either some or a lot.
Americans are also divided over how the United States should best manage the situation in Ukraine. Forty-eight percent of Americans (including 53 percent of Democrats and 50 percent of Republicans) believe the U.S. should only pursue economic or diplomatic sanctions against Russia with the cooperation of other countries.
Just 5 percent of Americans support the U.S. taking unilateral action against Russia, while 26 percent of Americans favor having the European Union handle the situation without the involvement of the United States. (Political independents slightly favor EU action without the United States to U.S. action in cooperation with other countries.)
The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll was conducted March 5-9, 2014 and has a margin of error of +/- 3.10 percent for its sample of all adults.
First published March 11 2014, 9:00 PM