Half of Americans Say U.S. Headed Back to Cold War

Half of Americans Say U.S. Headed Back to Cold War

by Rebecca Riffkin

Those who lived through Cold War more likely to say it is returning

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Fifty percent of Americans believe the U.S. and Russia are currently heading back toward a Cold War. During his trip to Europe, President Barack Obama acknowledged increasing tension with Russia but said he has no interest in entering into another Cold War.

Americans' view about the return of a cold war

Spurred by increased international apprehensions of Russia's annexation of Crimea, Gallup asked Americans on March 22-23 if they felt the U.S. was returning to a Cold War. Gallup asked the same question in February 1991 polling and found a quarter of Americans saying they thought the U.S. and the Soviet Union were heading back toward a Cold War, while 64% did not think this.

The 1991 polling took place as tensions were easing in the decades-long Cold War, prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union at the end of that year. In January and February 1991, the U.S. Congress voiced anger over Soviet crackdowns on independence fighters in the Baltic region.

Older Americans More Likely to Say a Cold War Is Returning

Older Americans are much more likely than younger Americans to say the U.S. and Russia are heading back toward a Cold War. Sixty-four percent of Americans aged 65 and older say a Cold War is returning, almost 30 percentage points higher than the percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds who hold this same view.

Americans' view about the return of a cold war, by age

This difference in opinions between ages could be linked to Americans' experiences with the Cold War. The oldest Americans in the 18- to 29-year-old age group would have been five years old when one of the death knells of the Cold War occurred -- the falling of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Overall, many in this younger age group were not alive at all during the Cold War. Americans who are older than 65, however, were at least 40 as the Cold War ended, and they grew up when tensions between the U.S. and Soviet Union dominated American foreign policy.

Americans of different ages are also paying different levels of attention to the situation in Ukraine. Nearly 80% of Americans aged 65 and older are very or somewhat closely following the news about the situation between Russia and Ukraine, while 42% of Americans aged 18 to 29 report paying the same amount of attention.

Nearly 60% of Americans who are very or somewhat closely following the situation between Russia and Ukraine say the U.S. is heading back toward a Cold War, while 36% of those whose who are not closely following the conflict say the same.

More Republicans Think the U.S. Is Heading Back Toward a Cold War

Fewer than half of Democrats and independents feel the U.S. is heading back toward a Cold War, compared with more than two-thirds of Republicans who say the same.

Americans' view about the return of a cold war, by party ID

These party differences could be linked to the finding that U.S. seniors are more likely to be Republican. They also may be associated with Republicans' historic views of the importance of the U.S. military and support for defense spending.


The Cold War, from roughly 1945 to 1991, was a watershed moment in American history. This period redefined America's defense system and led to decisions to enter into military conflicts in Korea and Vietnam. While the U.S. and the Soviet Union never directly engaged in battle, this competition led to an unprecedented arms race between the two nations. The icy tensions between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union affected countries worldwide for decades.

Russia's recent annexation of part of Ukraine as well as its support for Iran and Syria have put it at odds with the U.S. During his visit to Europe, President Obama said he does not feel the U.S. is returning to the Cold War, but currently, at least half of Americans do not appear to agree with him. Even if U.S.-Russia tensions do not escalate to the point they did during the Cold War era, for the immediate future, Russia may be the most challenging foreign policy issue facing the U.S.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted March 22-23, 2014, with a random sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.

For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.

Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

View survey methodology, complete question responses, and trends.

For more details on Gallup's polling methodology, visit www.gallup.com.

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