This week’s high profile summit between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin was markedly different from the meetings between Putin and Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump. The former President was largely seen as friendly toward Putin, while Biden is definitely not.
In fact, Trump was so friendly with Putin that he took an issue (Russia) that was either bipartisan or one on which Republicans were more skeptical and turned it into a partisan one, with Republicans more inclined to be on Russia’s side. That still holds true today.
Let’s start with basic favorability ratings. A quarter (25%) of Republicans viewed Russia favorably in a Gallup poll taken in February. Just 16% of Democrats did. This is about the same as it was last year when 27% of Republicans and 16% of Democrats had a favorable view toward Russia.
To put this 25% of Republicans who like Russia in perspective, only about 10% of Republicans hold a favorable view of Biden in Gallup polling.
The partisan split on Russia is far different from what we had seen previously. From 1974 to 1994 and 2013 to 2016 in Gallup and General Social Survey data, Democrats and Republicans pretty much always had the same favorable rating of Russia (or the Soviet Union). The maximum difference (near the end of the Cold War in 1985) was when Democrats were 7 points more likely to hold a favorable view of the Soviet Union than Republicans were.
The partisan split holds for Putin himself. Like with Russia, Americans of all stripes haven’t had a lot of confidence in Putin doing the right thing in world affairs in recent years. Republicans, however, were more likely to have less confidence (80%) than Democrats (74%) in 2015, according to the Pew Research Center.
This year, Democrats were 9 points more likely to express a lack of confidence (87%) in Putin than Republicans were (78%). This 78% is only slightly worse than the 72% of Republicans who lack confidence in Biden’s ability to do the right thing in world affairs.
Indeed, like with Russia as a whole, other polling indicates that Republicans are more likely to hold a favorable view of Putin than Biden.
Putting views of Russia into Americans’ world perspective, Gallup has been asking Americans who the United States’ greatest enemy is since 2001. The partisan split in this year’s Gallup poll was the largest in the last 20 years, with 47% of Democrats saying Russia and just 6% of Republicans saying the same thing.
Back in 2016, Democrats and Republicans saw Russia basically the same way. About 15% of Americans (16% of Republicans and 14% of Democrats) indicated that they saw Russia as America’s greatest enemy. In fact, an examination of Gallup data reveals that there was never a difference of more than 3 points between how Democrats and Republicans viewed Russia between 2001 and 2016.
When it comes to what to do about Russia, Democrats (50%) are far more likely to say we need to make limiting their power a top priority than Republicans (33%) in Pew polling. That’s basically the same as it was two years ago when the split was 52% of Democrats and 32% of Republicans argued we needed to limit their power and influence.
As Slate’s William Saletan pointed out, this has had far reaching impacts in terms of what Americans want us to do in foreign policy. Fewer Republicans (60%) want us to keep our commitment to NATO or increase than at any point since 1974, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs. Democrats, meanwhile, are at one of their highest support for NATO commitment in the last 45 years.
Putin, of course, is not a fan of NATO.
The question is what happens in the upcoming years as we get further away from Trump’s time in office. Interestingly, Americans have shifted their opinion more on Russia in the last 20 years than most other countries that we’ve had hostile relations with such as Iran and North Korea.
At the beginning of the century, a majority of Americans actually had a favorable view of Russia.
It’s at least possible that with some time and a different president, opinions may shift again.