Almost fourteen months have passed since Russia launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine. To date, President Putin’s so-called “Special Military Operation” for the “demilitarisation and deNazification” of Ukraine has not toppled the government in Kyiv. Nor does Russia today occupy a single provincial capital that was not already under its control before February 2022.
So far, according to western estimates, the war has resulted in some 300,000 military casualties, while the UN has confirmed a total of 8,317 civilian deaths (although the true figure is likely much higher). The UN also estimates that more than 8 million Ukrainians are now refugees across Europe.
Yet, the front in eastern Ukraine—save for the hotly-contested city of Bakhmut—has been relatively stable for much of the winter, as both sides prepare for better weather and harder ground before launching their anticipated Spring offensives.
With no end to the conflict therefore in sight, and with the United States and Britain the two largest donors of military aid to Ukraine, we at Redfield & Wilton Strategies last month asked voters in both countries about their views on the war. Questions ranged from how they judge their respective Government’s responses to the invasion, and the amount of support their countries have given to Ukraine, to how and when they think the war might end, and how much territory Ukraine should seek to recover before opening peace talks.
As it stands, pluralities of voters in both Great Britain (45%) and the United States (45%) approve of their government’s responses to Russia’s invasion, while only 18% of respondents in both countries disapprove.
In Britain, these numbers have held remarkably steady over time. In a dozen polls conducted since the start of the war, approval of the UK Government’s response to the invasion has never fallen below 44%, reaching a high of 55% in March 2022. Meanwhile, the number of those who disapprove of how the Government has responded to the invasion has only risen above 20% once, with disapproval generally holding in the mid-to-high teens.
Across the Atlantic, despite the hyper-partisan nature of contemporary American politics, a plurality of those who voted for Donald Trump in 2020 (41%) approve of the Biden Administration’s response to Russia’s invasion, as do 53% of Biden 2020 voters.
A more partisan split, however, is evident when American voters are asked about President Biden’s personal response to the invasion.
While 52% of all Americans, and 70% of 2020 Democratic voters, approve of how President Biden has responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that number drops to 37% among those who voted Republican in the 2020 Presidential Election. A plurality (43%) of these voters say they disapprove of President Biden’s response.
Meanwhile, pluralities of voters in both Britain (48%) and the United States (41%) believe that their governments have given the right amount of support to Ukraine. While there are increasing divisions among leading Republicans over the level of US support for Ukraine, 39% of Trump 2020 voters—a plurality—believe that the United States has provided Ukraine with the right amount of support.
By contrast, 28% of Americans and 19% of Britons believe their countries have given Ukraine too much support. A further 19% of Americans and 20% of Britons think their countries have provided Ukraine with not enough support thus far.
Intriguingly, despite a plurality of Trump 2020 voters feeling that the US has provided the right amount of support to Ukraine, 38% of this group think most of their fellow Americans believe the United States has provided Ukraine with too much support. Overall, however, 45% of British and 39% of American respondents believe that most of their fellow voters think their Governments have provided the right amount of support to Ukraine.
At the same time, the risk that increased western arms supplies might lead to the war escalating beyond Ukraine’s borders is a real concern. In both countries, more voters would be most concerned about providing too much support to Ukraine, and the war spreading beyond its borders—49% in the United States and 50% in Britain—rather than providing not enough support to Ukraine, and it consequently losing the war (34% of US voters and 30% of Britons).
Understandably, given the situation of the conflict at present, voters in both countries express no great certainty over how or when the war will end, and who will be the likely victor.
Pluralities in both the United States (35%) and Great Britain (43%) don’t know which of the two sides is the most likely to win the war, although more voters in both countries believe Ukraine is a more likely winner (34% of US voters and 33% of Britons) than Russia (32% in the US, 25% in Britain)
On the whole, Britons are much more likely than Americans to believe the war will be a long struggle.
While pluralities in both countries—38% of Americans and 41% of Britons—think the war will end sometime in 2024, almost a quarter (24%) of British voters think the war will last beyond the end of 2025, while only 15% of Americans think it will last that long. 30% of Americans believe the war will end this year, a considerably higher share than the 18% of Britons who think the war will be over by the end of 2023.
Asked who would benefit most from a longer war, pluralities in both the United States (41%) and Britain (39%) believe the longer the war continues, the more it favours Ukraine. On the flipside, 32% of Americans and 30% of Britons think that the longer the war goes on the more it favours Russia.
When offered two potentially negative outcomes to the war—1) the war ends this year, but Russia keeps some Ukrainian territory or 2) the war lasts several years without a clear conclusion—and asked which would be the ‘least bad’ option, British and American voters differ.
While a plurality of Americans (41%) believe the war ending this year, with Russia keeping some Ukrainian territory, would be the least bad option, only 30% of British voters share that view. Instead, 41% of Britons say a war lasting several years without a clear conclusion would be the least bad option, compared to 36% of American who feel the same.
But British and American voters are of one mind on what Ukraine should aim to do before seeking a peace agreement.
48% of voters in both countries think Ukraine should seek to recover all territory lost since February 2022, when Russia fully invaded, before seeking a peace agreement. Against that view, just over a quarter of respondents in both countries—28% in the US, and 26% in Britain—think Ukraine should seek to recover all her territory lost since February 2014, including Crimea, before looking for a peace deal to end the war.
To date, both the United States and the United Kingdom have contributed vital military, financial, and moral support to Ukraine. As the Ukrainian Army prepares for a potentially decisive summer, some evidence of military success will be crucial to sustain the solidarity shown by the American and British publics with Ukraine and to keep the aid provided by the US and British Governments flowing.