Cold War Mentality Creeps Into Americans’ Feelings on Russia

Poll shows Americans have a negative view of Russia for the first time since 1999.

National Journal
Matt Vasilogambros
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Matt Vasilogambros
Sept. 18, 2013, 9:05 a.m.

This isn’t the Cold War. But you wouldn’t know that by the way Amer­ic­ans now view Rus­sia.

A new poll re­leased by Gal­lup on Wed­nes­day shows that for the first time in 15 years, more people in the U.S. think that Rus­sia is un­friendly to Amer­ic­an in­terests and is not an ally.

In the years after the fall of the So­viet Uni­on, U.S. view­points of Rus­sia im­proved stead­ily, and in 1999 more Amer­ic­ans fi­nally con­sidered Rus­sia an ally and a friend than an en­emy. The peak of the re­la­tion­ship between the two na­tions came in 2006, when 73 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans thought pos­it­ively about Rus­sia. Even in June of this year, 50 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans still main­tained that Rus­sia was friendly to U.S. in­terests.

But that’s changed in re­cent months, as the dys­func­tion­al re­la­tion­ship between Pres­id­ent Obama and Rus­si­an Pres­id­ent Vladi­mir Putin took cen­ter stage.


And the neg­at­ive re­ac­tions to­ward Rus­sia don’t just stop at the broad­er level. Now, for the first time since he took of­fice in 2000, a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans (54 per­cent) have an un­fa­vor­able view of Putin. Just 19 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans view Putin fa­vor­ably.

That be­ing said, it’s not as if a ma­jor­ity of Amer­ic­ans ever viewed him fa­vor­ably. His height of pop­ular­ity came in May 2002 at 41 per­cent.

Still, the fact that Rus­sia seems more will­ing to as­sist in the dis­mant­ling of Syr­ia’s chem­ic­al-weapons stock­pile — and pos­sibly reen­gage in peace talks to end the long civil war in the Middle East­ern coun­try — is not lost on the Amer­ic­an people. Of those polled, 72 per­cent ap­prove of the U.S.-Rus­sia plan agreed to over the week­end. Fifty per­cent of Amer­ic­ans think Putin’s in­volve­ment was help­ful. The poll was, in fact, taken on Sept. 15 and 16, right after the new plan was an­nounced.

So, while Putin’s en­gage­ment in re­cent weeks in for­eign policy has been a pos­it­ive step in the re­la­tion­ship between the U.S. and Rus­sia, some ma­jor is­sues are still at play — not least of which is the Rus­si­an lead­er’s crack­down on gays and les­bi­ans, in ad­di­tion to him shel­ter­ing Na­tion­al Se­cur­ity Agency leak­er Ed­ward Snowden. Both of the ac­tions are dis­ap­proved by more than 60 per­cent of Amer­ic­ans who were aware of these steps taken by Putin.

Pres­id­ent George W. Bush may have looked in­to Putin’s eyes, saw his soul and liked him, but the Amer­ic­an people have looked in­to Putin’s ac­tions, saw his re­cord, and didn’t like what they saw.

The poll was con­duc­ted with 1,010 adults by phone with a mar­gin of er­ror of plus or minus 4 per­cent­age points.

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