Party supporters attend a campaign launch rally for the leader of the Italian far-right party Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, in central Italy on Aug. 23, 2022. Meloni has been critical of Russia's military invasion of Ukraine.
Party supporters attend a campaign launch rally for the leader of the Italian far-right party Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, in central Italy on Aug. 23, 2022. Meloni has been critical of Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine. (Vincenzo Pinto/AFP via Getty Images)

Europeans who support right-wing populist parties have historically been more likely than other Europeans to express a positive view of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. While that is generally still the case today, favorable opinions of Russia and Putin have declined sharply among Europe’s populists following Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis.

The decline in favorable views of Russia and Putin has been especially pronounced among populists in Italy, which will hold an election on Sept. 25 to determine if the far-right Brothers of Italy party – backed by two other right-wing populist parties, Lega and Forza Italia – will lead the winning coalition. Favorable opinions of Russia have declined by 49 percentage points among supporters of Lega and Forza Italia since 2020 – the biggest decrease of any measured in the Center’s analysis.

A chart showing that favorability toward Russia has dropped sharply among Europe’s right-wing populists.

Overall, positive ratings of Russia dropped by 15 points or more among supporters of most right-wing populist parties in Europe between 2020 and 2022. In France, for example, a majority of National Rally supporters (55%) held a favorable view of Russia in 2020, but just about a fifth (21%) do so now – a drop of 34 points. In Hungary, which was last surveyed in 2019, and Germany, supporters of Fidesz and Alternative for Germany (AfD) also have become less positive toward Russia, with favorability dropping 15 points in both countries.

This Pew Research Center analysis focuses on the decline in right-wing populist party favorability of Russia and confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin across many of the 14 European political parties included in the survey. For more information on how we classify European populist parties, see Appendix.

Data collection began a week prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in France, Germany, Italy and the United Kingdom. In Poland and Hungary, data collection began on March 25 and April 19, respectively. All other countries began fieldwork the same day as or shortly after the invasion. Due to the time it takes to translate, program and test questions on our international surveys, we prioritized gathering data at the start of this significant international event rather than delaying or pausing, fieldwork to add questions specifically about the war or the actions taken by world leaders in response.

For non-U.S. data, this analysis draws on nationally representative surveys of 12,420 adults fielded from Feb. 14 to June 3, 2022. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Surveys were conducted face to face in Hungary and Poland.

In the United States, we surveyed 3,581 U.S. adults from March 21 to 27, 2022. Everyone who took part in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology. Here are the questions used for the report, along with responses, and the survey methodology.

The negative shift in European populist views of Russia extends to ratings of the Russian president as well. The trend is again particularly pronounced in Italy, where supporters of right-wing populist parties Lega and Forza Italia saw the largest recorded loss of confidence in Putin (-52 and -41 points, respectively).

In Sweden, where the right-wing Sweden Democrats just became a controlling party in the government, 9% of Sweden Democrats supporters offer a positive rating of the Russian leader in 2022. This represents a 21-point decrease in confidence from 2021. Double-digit drops in confidence occurred among supporters of 13 of the 14 right-wing parties tracked in our survey.

A chart showing that confidence in Putin decreased among right-wing populists, especially in Italy.

European right-wing populists remain more positive toward Russia, Putin than other Europeans

While favorable views of Russia and Putin have decreased sharply among supporters of right-wing populist parties in Europe, these parties’ supporters continue to be more likely than other Europeans to see Russia and Putin in a positive light. For example, in Greece, those with a favorable opinion of the right-wing populist party Greek Solution are 34 percentage points more likely than those with an unfavorable view of the party to have a positive view of Russia (53% vs. 19%).

A chart showing that right-wing populists remain more positive toward Russia and Putin than others.

When it comes to opinion of the Russian president, right-wing populist supporters are, in many cases, again more likely than those who do not support these parties to have confidence in Putin. Here, too, supporters of the Greek Solution party stand out: 55% say they have confidence in Putin, compared with 18% of those who do not support Greek Solution. Double-digit differences are also present in Germany, Hungary, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. Notably, Hungarians with a favorable view of Jobbik – a right-wing populist party that has moved steadily toward the center in opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Orban and his ruling Fidesz party – are less likely to have a positive opinion of Putin than Jobbik nonsupporters.

For three right-wing populist parties included in the survey – Lega in Italy, Vox in Spain and Law and Justice (PiS) in Poland – supporters do not differ meaningfully from nonsupporters in their current views of Russia and Putin. On balance, Poland stands out from the rest of Europe for its overwhelmingly critical opinions of Russia and its leader.

Note: Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses. Visit our methodology database for more information about the survey methods used in this survey. For more information on how we classify European populist parties, see Appendix.

Moira Fagan  is a research associate focusing on global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.
Laura Clancy  is a research assistant focusing on global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.