Americans Still Concerned About Russia as a Military Threat

by Frank Newport

Less than half have favorable view of Russia


The American public continues to maintain a cautiously skeptical view of Russia, with less than half holding a favorable view of the country. Sentiments about Russian President Boris Yeltsin are similarly mixed, and there is concern on the part of the American people that Russia could still constitute a significant military threat to the U.S. Additionally, a majority of Americans oppose increasing economic aid to the beleaguered country.

Gallup poll assessments of Russia go back more than 45 years. Not surprisingly, almost nine out of ten Americans in 1954 had an unfavorable opinion of Russia, a view that moderated only slightly as the Cold War progressed through the '70s and '80s. But the end of the Soviet Union at the beginning of this decade did not totally change the public's perception of Russia. In a poll conducted May 7-9, only 46% of Americans said they had a favorable opinion of Russia, with 49% saying they had an unfavorable opinion. This puts Russia in a mid-range position in terms of Americans' perceptions of other countries, below such traditional allies as Great Britain and Israel, but more favorably evaluated than such countries as China or Iraq.

Older Americans, who have the longest memory, have a more unfavorable opinion of Russia than do those who are younger. There are not large differences in opinion of Russia between Republicans and Democrats nor between conservatives and liberals.

The American opinion of Boris Yeltsin has gone up and down throughout this decade. In Gallup's most recent poll, December, 1998, just 47% had a favorable opinion of the Russian president, and 48% in a May 7-9 poll say that the U.S. should continue to support him. Both of these percentages are lower than measurements earlier in the decade.

There was no question that the Soviet Union constituted the United States' number one military threat during the days of the Cold War. The American public has apparently still not gotten over its perception of Russia's military power as a possible problem for the U.S. Almost half of Americans interviewed in an April Gallup poll said that Russia continues to constitute a significant military threat to the United States. This is up slightly from a previous poll that asked the same question in 1994. The increase may be due to concerns about uncertain Russian leadership, and the widespread publicity given to the fact that there are still huge numbers of nuclear weapons in current and former Soviet Union territory.

About a third of the American public says that the differences in opinion between Russia and the United States over the current Kosovo situation could lead to a renewal of the Cold War. Although an actual resumption of the Cold War may be an unlikely occurrence, the fact that a third of Americans think that it could happen suggests the degree to which the public continues to worry about Russian intentions and future Russian behavior.

Perhaps as a result of all of the unsettledness in Russia, the American public is also leery of expanding the United States' role in propping the country up economically. Fifty-three percent in a March poll said that they are opposed to increasing economic aid to Russia.

For results based on the sample of national adults (N=1,025) surveyed May 7-9, 1999, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Next, I'd like your overall opinion of some foreign countries. First, is your overall opinion of [Russia] very favorable, mostly favorable, mostly unfavorable, or very unfavorable?

  Very Favorable Mostly Favorable Mostly Unfavorable Very Unfavorable No Opin-
99 May
4% 42% 36% 13% 5%
99 Apr
3 30 45 14 8
99 Feb
6 38 34 10 12
96 Mar
6 46 29 10 9

For results based on the sample of national adults (N=1,069) surveyed April 13-14, 1999, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

In your view, should the U.S. continue to support Russian President Boris Yeltsin, or don't you think so?

  Yes, continue to support Don't think so No Opinion
99 Apr 13-14 48% 42% 10%
99 Mar 19-21 59 32 9
98 Sep 1^ 51 35 14
93 Oct 5^ 62 23 15

^ one-night poll

In your view, is Russia a significant military threat to the United States today, or don't you think so?

  Yes, significant military threat No, not a threat No Opinion
99 Apr 13-14 48% 42% 10%
99 Mar 19-21 42 54 4
94 Jan 6-8 43 54 3

As a result of the disagreements between NATO countries and Russia on the NATO military action in Yugoslavia, do you think that it is likely that a new Cold War will break out between Russia and the Western nations, or not?

Yes, likely a new Cold War will break out 33%
No, not likely 59
No opinion 8

For results based on the sample of national adults (N=1,018) surveyed March 19-21, 1999, the margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

  Favor Oppose No Opinion
99 Mar 19-21 43% 53% 4%
94 Sep 23-25 31 67 2
94 Jan 6-8 40 57 3
Get Articles in Related Topics:

Gallup World Headquarters, 901 F Street, Washington, D.C., 20001, U.S.A
+1 202.715.3030