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Polls Show Western Public Favors General Support for Ukraine, But Is Increasingly Skeptical About Supplying Arms

February 09, 2023
RM Staff

As the world nears the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the majority of Ukrainians remain resolved, in spite of the enormous casualties and destruction that the war has caused, to fight until victory. A January 2023 poll by the Kyiv-based Institute of Sociology found that more than 95% of respondents are confident that their country will win the war, with only 2.5% saying they are unsure Ukraine will prevail. Polls of Ukrainians by international research organizations have also revealed a high level of determination. For instance, a Gallup poll from September found that 70% of Ukrainians believed in continuing the war until victory,1 while only 26% wanted their government to “seek to negotiate an ending to the war as soon as possible.”2 In contrast, in Russia, the share of people who prefer peace talks over continued fighting increased from 48% in September to 53% in November, according to the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Levada Center.

But what of people in Western countries, whose support has been crucial to the Ukrainians’ effort to repel the Russian invasion? Does their support of continued assistance for Ukraine’s efforts on the battlefield persist? And are they as likely as Ukrainians to favor fighting until victory over a negotiated end to the conflict? Our review of available polling data suggests that, if current trends continue, the share of Westerners who oppose continuing the supply of arms to Ukraine may exceed the share of those in favor some time in the war’s second year. Meanwhile, the relative proportions of those who support compromise in the name of peace vary more greatly and trends have been harder to discern.

Support in West for Military Aid to Ukraine Significant But Generally Declining

With Western aid to Ukraine ballooning into the tens of billions of dollars, recent polls show that the share of Americans who favor keeping up such support to Ukraine has shrunk somewhat in recent months, though it continues to exceed the share of those who oppose it. The share of Americans who say the U.S. is providing too much support to Ukraine has grown from 7% in March 2022 to 26% in January 2023, according to the Pew Research Center. The share who say the U.S. is not providing enough has dropped from 42% to 20%, while the share of those who believe the U.S. is providing just about the right volume of aid to Ukraine went from 32% to 31% in that period, according to Pew. Similarly, a January-February poll released last week by the Washington Post and ABC News shows that the share of Americans who think the U.S. is doing too much to support Ukraine in its war with Russia grew from 14% in April to 33% in February, while the share of those who think the U.S. is doing too little decreased from 37% to 19%.

When it comes to the Western public’s support for specific kinds of assistance, most polls show a decline in support for military aid both in the U.S. and EU. For instance, surveys conducted by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in July-August3 and November showed the share of Americans who support supplying arms to Ukraine has dropped from 72% to 65%.

Support for weapons deliveries among Europeans has been declining, too. It slipped from 56% to 50% between March and September across the EU, though varied by country, according to Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation. Polls by Ipsos in March-April and November-December showed similar trends in European support for supplying weapons and/or air defense systems to Ukraine, along with increasing unease among Europeans about financial assistance:

The Ipsos polling also shows that the share of those who said their country “cannot afford” such support for Ukraine “given the current economic crisis” rose in all but one of the European countries surveyed:

In its November-December poll, Ipsos also asked respondents if they were in favor of “continuing to support Ukraine until all Russian forces have withdrawn from territory claimed by Ukraine.” Majorities in five of the nine EU countries surveyed were in favor of keeping up support for the fight (France 56%, Netherlands 63%, Poland 65%, Spain 61%, Sweden 69%). While Germany was nearly evenly split (49% in favor), a minority were for continued support to Ukraine in Belgium (47%), Italy (42%) and Hungary (37%).5 Overall, the level of support for continued aid to Ukraine averaged 48.1% in these nine EU countries. 

Europeans were generally more supportive of EU assistance to Ukraine when pollsters did not specify whether the aid was military or some other kind, according to the October-November issue of the European Parliament’s Eurobarometer survey. Nearly three-quarters (74%) of respondents approved of EU support for Ukraine—33% strongly and 41% somewhat—with the highest numbers in Sweden (97%), Finland (95%), the Netherlands (93%), Portugal (92%) and Denmark (92%). At the same time, less than 50% of respondents in Bulgaria, Greece and Slovakia approved of EU support for Ukraine.

One outlier among the general trend of declining support was a Fox News poll released last week that showed a slight uptick from six months ago in Americans’ support for sending money (59% to 63%) and arms (61% to 64%) to Ukraine.

Findings on Western Support for Peace Through Compromise Are Mixed

As the Western public’s appetite for military assistance to Ukraine has shrunk, support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict through compromise has been mixed, with some of the variance probably explained by the different wording of pollsters’ questions.

In America, for instance, it increased according to one poll and held steady according to another. The Chicago Council surveys of July-August and November saw the share of those who believe “the United States should urge Ukraine to settle for peace as soon as possible so that the costs aren’t so great for American households, even if that means that Ukraine will lose some territory” increased from 38% to 47%; the share of those who believe “the United States should support Ukraine for as long as it takes, even if American households have to pay higher gas and food prices as a consequence” dropped from 58% to 48%. But in more recent Gallup polls, the share of those supporting “Ukraine reclaiming territory, even if prolonged conflict” barely changed, dropping from 66% in August to 65% in January, while the share of those in favor of ending the “conflict quickly, even if Russia keeps territory” stayed flat at 31%. A one-off poll of “likely voters” in the U.S. conducted in September for the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft showed the inverse of Gallup’s results: that 57% strongly or somewhat supported the U.S. pursuing diplomatic negotiations as soon as possible to end the war, even if it requires Ukraine making compromises with Russia, while just 32% of respondents were strongly or somewhat opposed.

We have been unable to find a series of polls in the EU that could identify pan-European trends. A one-off poll in 10 European countries by the European Council on Foreign Relations, conducted in mid-May, found 35% of the respondents in the "peace camp," while 22% wanted “justice,” meaning Russia’s “clear defeat.” A poll of Germans conducted by Forsa and released in January found over 80% of the Germans believe it is more important to end the war with negotiations than for Ukraine to win, while only 18% disagree, the Wall Street Journal reported. Another recent poll in Germany, conducted by YouGov, shows that 55% of Germans want Ukraine to begin peace talks with Russia, with just 27% saying it is not the appropriate time for such talks, according to The European Conservative.  

Decision-Makers in All Affected Regions Will Be Keeping an Eye on Public Opinion

If the trends we have captured in Westerners’ attitudes toward the war continue in a linear fashion, then chances are that the share of those who oppose supplying arms could exceed the share of those in favor sometime within the next year or so. This is something that democratically elected Western governments cannot ignore altogether.

Trends in Western opinion on continuing the war at all costs vs. compromising for peace have been harder to capture. As decision-makers in the U.S. and EU— and also in Ukraine and Russia—weigh the pros and cons of these two options, they are no doubt keeping an eye on public opinion in their own countries, and in states that are key stakeholders in this conflict.

 

Footnotes

  1. Victory was defined as “when all territory lost between 2014 and now is regained, including Crimea.”
  2. Support for keeping up the fight is strongest in the west of Ukraine and weakest in the east.
  3. An August 2022 poll by Gallup found that 24% of Americans said the U.S. was doing “too much” to help Ukraine, while 38 % said “not enough” and 36% said the “right amount.”
  4. The March-April version of the agree/disagree statement was “[My country] should provide weapons such as guns and anti-tank weapons to the Ukrainian military.” The November-December version was: “Would you support your country providing weapons and/or air-defense systems to the Ukrainian military?”
  5. In the U.K., 68% were for continued support, while in the U.S. 57% were for continued support.

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