Growing share of Republicans say U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas and focus on concerns at home
Pew Research Center conducted this study to examine Americans’ views of Russia, Ukraine and NATO. For this analysis, we surveyed 3,576 U.S. adults from March 20-26, 2023. 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 this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology.
In the midst of a major international conflict in Ukraine and an expansion of NATO in Europe, Americans have distinct opinions on the key players in the war. Majorities of U.S. adults have favorable views of Ukraine itself, as well as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and have confidence in Ukraine’s leader, President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. At the same time, few have positive opinions of Russia or confidence in its ruler, President Vladimir Putin. And a 64% majority view Russia as an enemy to the United States, rather than as a competitor or partner.
Americans express mixed confidence in two of NATO’s most important leaders: French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. In fact, 35% of Americans have never heard of Scholz, with 24% saying the same about Macron.
Over the past few years, there have also been shifts in how Americans view their place in the world. A majority (55%) says that the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on problems at home, compared with 43% who say it’s best for the future of the country to be active in world affairs. This represents a shift in opinion since 2021, before Russia invaded Ukraine, when 50% of Americans wanted to focus on domestic troubles and 49% wanted to be active in world affairs.
Similarly, 39% of Americans say that the country should follow its own interests, even if allies disagree, while 59% say the U.S. should consider the interests of other countries, even if it means making compromises. In March 2020, 32% said the U.S. should go it alone, while 66% said the U.S. should work more with other countries. All of the current data was collected before the leak of classified intelligence information on Discord and its subsequent diplomatic fallout.
As is typical of American public opinion, there are partisan divides on many of the international issues surveyed. Democrats and independents who lean toward the Democratic Party are on balance more favorable toward Ukraine, NATO and key European leaders.
Republicans and independents who lean toward the Republican Party are more likely to want to pay attention to domestic issues, rather than be active in foreign affairs, and are more inclined to say the U.S. should follow its own interests. There are also slight partisan differences on attitudes toward Putin, with Republicans marginally less negative than Democrats toward Russia’s leader. And Republicans are almost equally divided in their views toward NATO, Ukraine and Zelenskyy.
These are among the findings of a Pew Research Center survey conducted on the Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel, among 3,576 adults from March 20 to 26, 2023.
Other key findings include:
- Democrats, those with more education and people who say the U.S. should consider the interests of other countries all give more support to the NATO alliance. About half (49%) of Republicans have a positive view of NATO, down from 55% in the weeks following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
- Support for Ukraine follows a similar pattern, with older Americans, Democrats (especially liberal Democrats) and those who think that it’s best for the U.S. to be active in world affairs having more positive views of the country.
- Attitudes toward Russia remain very negative. Majorities of Americans have very unfavorable opinions of Russia (62%), say Russia is an enemy (64%) and have no confidence at all in Putin (71%).
- Zelenskyy gets higher praise from older Americans, those with more education and Democrats. And about nine-in-ten Americans have heard of the Ukrainian leader.
- Those that say the U.S. should be active in world affairs are more positively inclined toward Macron, Scholz and Zelenskyy.
- The share of Republicans saying the U.S. should focus on problems at home rather than paying attention to issues overseas has increased 6 percentage points since last year (71% now, 65% then). And the share saying this is now 17 points higher than it was in September 2019, during the Trump administration.
- Democrats are 8 percentage points more likely since 2020 to say the U.S. should follow its own interests in international affairs, even if allies disagree.
Americans positive on NATO; partisan differences endure
Most Americans have a favorable view of NATO: 62% express a positive opinion, while 35% have a negative opinion of the organization. NATO, which recently welcomed Finland as a member, is consistently viewed in a favorable light by Americans. In 2022, shortly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine, 67% held a favorable view of NATO, the highest percentage measured since Pew Research Center transitioned to online surveys in the U.S. Since last year, positive opinions of NATO have faded slightly, with favorable views dropping 5 percentage points.
U.S. adults with a bachelor’s or postgraduate degree are more likely than those with some college or less education to have positive views of NATO. For example, three-quarters of Americans with a postgraduate degree express a favorable view of NATO, compared with 56% of those with a high school education or less.
Willingness to work with other countries is also associated with assessments of the alliance. Those who say the U.S. should take other countries’ interests into account are more likely to express favorability in NATO (73%) than those who believe the U.S. should follow its own interests (47%).
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are consistently more likely than Republicans and GOP leaners to hold a positive opinion of NATO. About three-quarters of Democrats (76%) have a favorable view of NATO, in contrast to 49% of Republicans. Among Republicans, moderates and liberals are more likely to have a favorable opinion of the alliance than conservatives. And liberal Democrats are more positive toward NATO than conservative and moderate supporters of the party.
The partisan divide on the issue of NATO is well established in past research. In 2022, Republicans grew more favorable toward NATO in the wake of Russia’s invasion. However, since then, Republicans have become less positive, with favorable ratings of the alliance declining 6 points. Democratic views of NATO have remained relatively steady since 2021.
About two-thirds in the U.S. have a positive view of Ukraine amid ongoing war
Most Americans have a favorable opinion of Ukraine. About two-thirds (64%) have a positive view of the country, while 34% have a negative view.
About seven-in-ten Americans ages 65 and older express a favorable view of Ukraine – more than any other age group.
Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are much more likely than their Republican counterparts to have a positive view of Ukraine, and ratings are especially positive among liberal Democrats.
Views of international engagement also correlate with attitudes of Ukraine. Those who believe it is best for the future of the U.S. to be active in world affairs are much more likely to have a positive view of Ukraine than those who say it is best for the U.S. to pay less attention to problems overseas and concentrate on issues at home.
Americans continue to view Russia unfavorably
As Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine enters its second year, Americans remain very negative toward Russia: 91% have an unfavorable view of the country, including 62% who say their views are very unfavorable. Just 7% in the U.S. have a favorable view of Russia. This is a similar level of negativity compared with last year’s survey, when 92% of Americans were negative toward Russia.
Prior to the 2020 transition to an online survey in the U.S., Pew Research Center measured views of Russia over the phone dating back to 2007. U.S. views of the country between 2007 and 2014 were mixed, but grew much more unfavorable after Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.
Older adults (those ages 65 and older) are more likely to have avery unfavorable view of Russia than any other age group and are 28 percentage points more likely to have a deeply negative opinion of Russia than adults ages 18 to 29.
Americans with more education, such as a postgraduate degree or a bachelor’s degree, are more likely to have a very negative view of Russia than those with some college or a high school education or less.
In general, Republicans and Democrats are aligned on negative views of Russia. But Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents are 5 points more likely than Republicans and Republican leaners to say they are very unfavorable toward Russia, and this view is especially common among liberal Democrats.
Both Democrats and Republicans have also grown somewhat less negative on Russia over the past year, even after negative views of Russia increased markedly between 2020 and 2022. Two-thirds of Republicans and 72% of Democrats had very unfavorable views of Russia in 2022. This year, deeply unfavorable sentiment declined 6 points among each partisan group – a statistically significant drop. Other Pew Research Center surveys have found that Republicans especially are less likely to see the war between Russia and Ukraine as a major threat to U.S. interests than they were in the early months of the conflict, and an increasing share says the U.S. provides too much support to Ukraine.
Majority of Americans continue to view Russia as an enemy rather than competitor
Over six-in-ten Americans view Russia as an enemy of the U.S. (64%), as opposed to a competitor (30%) or a partner (3%). The number of Americans who view Russia as an enemy is down slightly from last year (70%), after increasing dramatically following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This drop contrasts with views of China: The share of Americans who see China as an enemy has increased over the past year.
Majorities among both Republicans and Democrats view Russia as an enemy of the U.S., though these shares have also decreased slightly since last year. Liberal Democrats are the most likely to consider Russia an enemy, with nearly three-quarters (73%) expressing this view. Meanwhile, nearly four-in-ten moderate and liberal Republicans (38%) view Russia as a competitor.
Older Americans are more likely to view Russia as an enemy of the U.S., with 76% of those ages 65 and older saying this, compared with 54% of adults under age 30 who say the same. Americans with at least a bachelor’s degree (72%) are also more likely to consider Russia an enemy than those without a college degree (61%).
Views also vary by beliefs regarding the United States’ role in global affairs. Those who believe that the U.S. should be active in world affairs are significantly more likely to view Russia as an enemy than those who believe that the U.S. should concentrate on domestic issues (74% vs. 57%, respectively).
Americans show much greater support for Zelenskyy than Putin, are less familiar with Macron and Scholz
A majority of Americans say they have confidence in Zelenskyy to do the right thing regarding world affairs. However, opinions vary across demographic groups: Those with a college degree or higher are more confident in Zelenskyy than those without a college degree, and older Americans tend hold more confidence than younger Americans.
Democrats are much more likely to have confidence in Zelenskyy than Republicans: 71% of Democrats have confidence in the Ukrainian president, compared with 44% of Republicans. Liberal Democrats are the most likely partisans to have at least some confidence in Zelenskyy. Even so, moderate and conservative Democrats are still more likely than both moderate and liberal Republicans and conservative Republicans to say the same. Conservative Republicans are also the most likely to explicitly say they have no confidence in Zelenskyy at all, with just under three-in-ten (27%) holding this view.
Americans who say it is better for the U.S. to be active in world affairs tend to express greater confidence in Zelenskyy, Macron and Scholz.
In stark contrast to views of the other three leaders, nine-in-ten Americans say they do not have confidence in Putin to do the right thing regarding world affairs, with 71% of those expressing no confidence at all. Americans’ negative assessments of Putin are relatively consistent across genders, age groups and levels of education.
Despite the growing partisan divide regarding U.S. support for Ukraine, Democrats and Republicans hold similarly low shares of confidence in Putin (92% vs. 89%). Within parties, Americans are also relatively united in these assessments: Across all ideological stripes of both Republicans and Democrats, nearly seven-in-ten or more express no confidence at all in Putin.
Around four-in-ten Americans (37%) have at least some confidence in Macron, while the same share says they do not. Just over half of Democrats express confidence in Macron, while about a quarter of Republicans say the same. Conservative Republicans are the least likely to express confidence.
Americans are about as confident in Scholz as they are in Macron. Democrats are nearly 17 percentage points more likely to express at least some confidence in Scholz than Republicans (44% vs. 27%). Liberal Democrats are the most likely to have confidence in Scholz, while conservative Republicans are the least likely. Overall, those who are more likely to say the U.S. should be active in global affairs are more likely to hold a positive opinion of the two European leaders.
Macron is more recognized by the American public than Scholz. Yet, around a quarter or more say they have never heard of either leader, with 35% saying this about Scholz – the highest share unfamiliar across the four leaders in this analysis. A majority of Americans ages 18 to 29 say they have never heard of the German leader and around four-in-ten women and those without a college degree say the same. Women are also twice as likely to say they have never heard of Macron than men.
A majority of Americans say the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas and focus more on domestic concerns, but Republicans and Democrats differ
A majority (55%) of Americans believe that the U.S. should pay less attention to problems overseas and instead concentrate on problems at home – up 4 percentage points from May 2022. This increase reflects a rise in the share of those who believe the U.S. should take a more isolationist approach to dealing with major international issues over the past several years.
There has long been a wide partisan divide on this question, with Republicans being much more likely to express a domestically focused view. Roughly seven-in-ten Republicans now say that the U.S. should pay less attention to issues abroad and instead concentrate on problems at home, 32 points higher than the share of Democrats who say the same. Among Democrats, liberal Democrats are less likely than their conservative or moderate counterparts to take a more isolationist stance.
While the share of Democrats who say that the U.S. should concentrate on problems at home is unchanged since last year, the share of Republicans who say this has increased by 6 points. The share of Republicans who say the U.S. should concentrate on problems at home has increased by 17 points since September 2019, the last time the question was asked during the Trump administration.
Younger Americans are also more likely to say that the U.S. should focus domestically rather than globally, with about six-in-ten saying this, compared with roughly four-in-ten Americans ages 65 and older who agree. A similar share (63%) of those with a high school education or less also express that the U.S. should focus on issues at home rather than global affairs, a difference of 22 percentage points from the Americans with a postgraduate education who say the same.
Views also vary by race and ethnicity. While majorities among Black and Hispanic Americans (60% each) believe that the U.S. should focus its attention on domestic issues, only about half of White and English-speaking Asian Americans agree.
Americans who negatively rate the economic situation and indicate dissatisfaction with the way democracy works in the U.S. are more likely to believe the country should concentrate on issues at home. Americans with lower incomes are also more likely than their middle- or upper-income counterparts to say that the U.S. should focus on domestic issues.
Most Americans think the U.S. should consider the interests of other countries when dealing with major international issues
A majority of Americans say the U.S. should take into account the interests of other countries even if it means making compromises with them when dealing with major international issues, as opposed to following its own interests even when other countries disagree. The share saying the U.S. should account for other countries’ interests has decreased 7 percentage points since March 2020, while those saying the U.S. should follow its own interests is up 7 points.
Americans under age 30 are more likely to say the U.S. should take into account the interests of other countries, with nearly seven-in-ten saying this, in comparison with the 53% of those ages 65 and older who hold this view.
Democrats (76%) are also more likely to hold this view than their Republican counterparts (43%). Liberal Democrats are especially likely to say that the U.S. should prioritize compromise with other countries, with over eight-in-ten saying this. In comparison, only 36% of conservative Republicans agree.
Among those who positively rate the economic situation and feel satisfied with the way democracy is working in the U.S., around seven-in-ten believe the U.S. should prioritize compromise with other countries when dealing with international issues. Among Americans who say the economy is not doing well and are dissatisfied with the state of democracy, only 55% say the U.S. should consider other nations’ interests.