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Public Views Russia’s Actions in Ukraine as Unjustified

Saint Basil's Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow, Russia
The UChicago/Harris NORC Poll tracked public sentiment of the war between Russia and Ukraine
  • Client
    University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy
  • Dates
    April 2023

About 7 in 10 adults believe Russia’s actions in Ukraine are unjustified, and 54% believe Russia is the only country committing war crimes in the conflict while 36% say both sides have committed such crimes, according to a new study from the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and NORC at the University of Chicago.

Most adults have positive views of the Russian people and Russian culture despite negative perceptions of the Russian government. For example, 62% consider Russia an enemy of the United States, but 88% say they would feel comfortable being friends or neighbors with someone Russian.

“The findings show that the public’s views the Russia-Ukraine conflict are largely distinct from its opinions of the Russian people,” said David Sterrett, a senior research scientist at NORC. “Instead, people’s attitudes toward the U.S. role in the conflict are closely tied to broader views on foreign policy and perceptions of Russia’s actions during the war.”

Adults who say the U.S. should take a more active role in solving the world’s problems are more likely to think the U.S. should play a major role in the Russia-Ukraine conflict than those who think it should take a less active role in world affairs (44% vs. 9%). However, support for U.S. involvement in the conflict does not significantly differ between those who view the Russian people positively or negatively.

There are significant differences in opinions toward both the U.S. role in the conflict and Russia in general based on age and partisanship. Adults 45 and older feel more negatively toward Russia. Democrats are more likely than Republicans to favor the U.S. taking a major role in the conflict (38% vs 19%) or regard Russia’s actions as an unjustified attempt to gain territory (82% vs. 69%). Despite these partisan differences, many in both parties believe Russia has committed war crimes.

This study was conducted by the University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy and NORC at the University of Chicago. Staff from Harris Public Policy and NORC collaborated on all aspects of the study. Interviews for this survey were conducted between April 13 and April 17, 2023, with adults age 18 and older representing the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Panel members were randomly drawn from AmeriSpeak, and 1,180 completed the survey. Interviews were conducted in English. The overall margin of sampling error is +/- 3.9 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level, including the design effect.

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