Invasion of Ukraine shifts public attitudes to Russia… and the USA

Matthew SmithHead of Data Journalism
March 01, 2022, 1:02 PM GMT+0

Proportion of Britons seeing Russia as a hostile power doubles

With the Russian invasion of Ukraine now entering its sixth day, the latest YouGov tracker update shows not only has public sentiment towards Russia shifted, but also feelings towards the United States.

At the time of our last poll, in September 2021, only 36% of Britons described the US as “generally a friend and ally to Britain and countries in Europe”. This figure had fallen from 43% in the prior poll in March 2021, although it was still consistent with 36-38% in the three surveys before that, stretching back to October 2019.

Now, however, that figure has shot up to 50%. The fieldwork for this survey took place between 26-28 February, so entirely following the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

This 14pt increase is paired with minor decreases in the other answers, the largest of which being the number of people considering the US to be “generally a friendly rival to Britain and countries in Europe”, which fell from 28% to 23%.

Currently, only 7% of Britons say the US is “generally unfriendly towards Britain and countries in Europe”, from 10% last year, and 2% consider it “generally a hostile threat towards Britain and countries in Europe”.

Similar numbers of Conservative and Labour voters have shifted their opinion on the US. The proportion of Tories who consider it a friend and ally has risen 11pts to 56%, while among Labour voters it is up 12pts to 46%.

Perceptions of the state of the special relationship between the US and UK have also improved, rising from 36% describing it as very/fairly close in September to 47% now. However, this may be more of a reversion to previous attitudes – in March 2021 that figure had also been 47%, with the September poll results potentially reflecting the US’s conduct in handling the recent chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan.

There is also no change in attitudes on whether the UK should develop a stronger relationship with the USA.

Number of Britons seeing Russia as hostile almost doubles following Ukraine invasion

By contrast, perceived Russian hostility has skyrocketed. In the September poll, 34% of Britons considered Russia a hostile threat to Britain and European countries. Unsurprisingly, following Russia’s invasion of a European country, that figure has almost doubled to 64%.

The largest portion of this shift has come from people who previously thought Russia to be “generally unfriendly”, an opinion which has fallen from 34% to 18% of the public. The number responding “don’t know” has also fallen nine points, to 11%.

Currently, 5% of Britons consider Russia to be a friend or friendly rival to Britain and the people of Europe, compared to 9% in September.

Attitudes are similar between the two main parties. Seven in ten Conservative voters (71%) now see Russia as a hostile threat, up from 42%, as do 62% of Labour voters, up from 32%. The difference is largely down to a greater proportion of “don’t know” responses from Labour voters, who tend to be younger and more likely to respond this way to questions such as this. Only 6% of Conservative and 5% of Labour voters see Russia as friendly or a friendly rival.

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