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American Public Opinion About Russia

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

by Joseph Carroll

Opinion of Russia

Americans generally rate the nation of Russia favorably. Gallup's annual update on the ratings of nations around the world, most recently conducted in early February, finds that 61% of Americans have a favorable opinion of Russia, and only 33% rate it unfavorably.

Gallup has asked Americans to rate Russia using this scale since the late 1980s. In surveys conducted from 1989 through 1994, at least half of all Americans rated Russia favorably. This includes a 66% favorable rating for Russia in August 1991, tied for the highest rating Gallup has ever found for this country. In 1995, ratings dipped to 49%. For the rest of the decade, Russia's ratings fluctuated between 33% and 56%.

Four in 10 Americans rated Russia positively in 2000, while a slim majority viewed the country negatively that year. Then, views of Russia began to improve, to 52% in 2001 and 66% in 2002, falling back slightly to 63% in early 2003. After Russia publicly opposed any U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, views of Russia plummeted to 41% in March 2003. However, these ratings have recovered since 2004, with roughly 6 in 10 rating Russia favorably for the past two years.

The current data show interesting age differences. Sixty-eight percent of 18- to 29-year-olds view Russia favorably, compared with 67% of 30- to 49-year-olds and 53% of those aged 50 and older.

An Enemy of the United States?

Very few Americans say Russia is "America's greatest enemy today." Gallup's Feb. 7-10 poll found that only 2% of Americans mentioned Russia when they were asked to name the one country anywhere in the world that is America's greatest enemy. The public was much more inclined to mention Iraq (22%), Korea (22%), Iran (14%), and China (10%).

In 2001, when Gallup last asked this question, the percentage of Americans saying Russia was the United States' greatest enemy was slightly higher, at 6%. At that time, nearly 4 in 10 said Iraq was the greatest enemy, followed by China (14%), Iran (8%), and then Russia.

Opinion of Russian President Vladimir Putin

Gallup has twice asked Americans to rate Russian President Vladimir Putin, and in both instances, Americans were more favorable than unfavorable in their views of the president. A May 2002 Gallup Poll found that 41% of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of Putin, while 18% had an unfavorable view and 41% had no opinion at all. In 2003, as more Americans became familiar with Putin, his ratings became more negative, with 38% of Americans rating him favorably, 28% rating him unfavorably, and 34% having no opinion at all.

"Cold War" Polling Revisited

From the late 1940s through the early 1960s, Gallup periodically asked Americans who was winning the Cold War. In 1948, Americans were more likely to say the United States was winning, rather than Russia. In 1950, 40% of Americans said the United States was losing the Cold War; only 28% said it was winning. Sentiment continued to be in favor of Russia (over the United States or the West) from 1951 to 1961. In 1962, views again changed on this measure, with Americans slightly more likely to say the West was winning, rather than Russia.

In the early 1990s, Gallup asked Americans if they really thought the Cold War was over. Although the results varied, a growing number of Americans came to believe the Cold War had ended. By October 1991, 60% of Americans were of this opinion.


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