More Than 4 in 5 Russians Fear Nuclear War With U.S.—Poll

The invasion of Ukraine has driven a new ideological wedge between Moscow and Washington, leaving a majority of Russians and Americans fearing a nuclear exchange, new polling shows.

A survey published on Wednesday by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Levada Center, Russia's last independent pollster, found clear Cold War-like divisions among the publics of both countries, whose views of one another "have tanked."

Along with overwhelmingly unfavorable views of each other's leaders, the results also showed Russians and Americans were sorting countries into friendly or hostile geopolitical camps. Most concerning of all, however, was the mutual perception of a rising nuclear threat on both sides.

A majority of Russians (58 percent) and Americans (54 percent) now view the military capabilities of their former Cold War foe as a "critical threat," according to the poll. Alarmed by mixed signals out of the Kremlin, 69 percent in the U.S. and 83 percent in Russia also fear the risk of a nuclear exchange.

New Poll Finds American and Russian Animosity
President Joe Biden, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin meet during the U.S.-Russia summit at Villa La Grange in Geneva, Switzerland, on June 16, 2021. An April 20, 2022, survey by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs and the Levada Center in Moscow found Russia's invasion of Ukraine had divided Russian and American views of one another along Cold War lines. Peter Klaunzer/Pool/Keystone via Getty Images

The survey found strikingly divergent views on their own countries and the respect they command in the world. Two-thirds of Russians believe their country is at least somewhat well-respected, while only one-third said the same about America. In the U.S., nearly three-quarters said their nation garners a fair amount or a great deal of respect. Only 12 percent of Americans felt similarly about Russia.

China, meanwhile, is considered at least somewhat respected by 8 in 10 Russians, but only 3 in 10 Americans thought China commanded a fair amount or a great deal of respect. Most Russians (62 percent) and Americans (55 percent in 2019) believe their government should contain rather than cooperate with the other, the results showed.

These trends continued when respondents were asked for their views on Joe Biden and Vladimir Putin. The Russian president, whose approval has gone up since ordering the invasion of Ukraine, retains overall favorability with 86 percent of his own citizens.

The figure was ahead of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko (82 percent) and Chinese leader Xi Jinping (76 percent). Just 6 percent of Russians have a favorable view of Biden compared to 82 percent who view the president unfavorably.

U.S. views of Putin were even worse. Only 4 percent of Americans expressed at least somewhat favorable views of the Russian leader, versus 94 percent who held somewhat or very unfavorable views. China's Xi also polled poorly, receiving 10 percent favorable and 89 percent unfavorable views.

When it came to Biden, 52 percent of Americans expressed favorable views, according to the survey. But as is typical of the current political dynamics in the U.S., the results saw a sharp divide along partisan lines—87 percent of Democrats, 14 percent of Republicans and 48 percent of independent voters approved of Biden.

With the West continuing to isolate Russia from large parts of the global economy, Russians are aligning themselves with a few obvious players. Belarus, an active participant in the war, was viewed favorably by 87 percent of respondents, and China, continuing its political cover for Moscow, by 83 percent—both up several percentage points from last year's figures.

Only 17 percent of Russians thought at least mostly favorably of the U.S., polling behind the European Union (21 percent) but ahead of NATO (10 percent).

Among Americans surveyed, only 8 percent considered Russia either an ally (1 percent) or a necessary partner (7 percent). The majority viewed it either as a rival (14 percent) or an adversary (57 percent). China fared marginally better in U.S. opinions of it as an ally (2 percent), a necessary partner (23 percent), a rival (31 percent) or an adversary (22 percent).

Given a choice of European partners to choose from, Americans were most likely to classify the United Kingdom (66 percent) and France (53 percent) as allies, according to the polling data, followed by Poland (49 percent), the EU (48 percent), Germany (47 percent) and Ukraine (46 percent).

At least 7 in 10 described these countries as either allies or partners, the report said.

The Chicago Council concluded that, given current views of Russia in the U.S., "it is difficult to envision enthusiasm among Americans for another reset of bilateral relations."

The same could be said about Russia. "In this moment, the animosity between the two countries appears mutual," the think tank said.

U.S. data for the survey was collected by Ipsos between March 25 and 28 from a sample of 1,016 adults aged 18 or older. Additional data was collected by AmeriSpeak between March 31 and April 4 from a sample of 1,010 people.

Levada collected Russian data between March 24 and 30 from a sample of 1,632 adults 18 or older.