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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Political Strategy Notes

How Will Americans Grade Biden’s Handling Of The Crisis In Ukraine?” Nathaniel Rakich addresses the question at FiveThirtyEight and observes: “According to a Feb. 18-21 poll from The Associated Press/NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, Americans disapproved of Biden’s handling of “the U.S. relationship with Russia” by 56 percent to 43 percent. Meanwhile, a Feb. 1-17 Gallup poll found that Americans disapproved of his handling of “the situation with Russia” by 55 percent to 36 percent. And in a Feb. 10-14 Quinnipiac University poll, Americans disapproved of his handling of “tensions between Russia and Ukraine” by 54 percent to 34 percent. These figures were all within a few points of his approval numbers on foreign policy more generally in those polls. (In addition, a Feb. 19-22 Fox News poll found that 56 percent of registered voters thought Biden had not been tough enough on Russia, virtually identical to the share who disapproved of his foreign-policy performance.)….These numbers were also within a few points of his overall approval rating, suggesting that Americans may not yet know how to judge Biden on the crisis and have simply retreated to their partisan corners when answering this question. That’s consistent with findings from political science research that Americans don’t have strongly held opinions on foreign policy and look to signals from political elites to tell them how they should feel about it.’

Further, Rakich writes, “a separate Morning Consult survey conducted Thursday — the only poll asking about Ukraine conducted entirely since Russia’s invasion so far — told a different tale. In it, registered voters gave Biden a positive net approval rating on his handling of foreign policy in Ukraine and Eastern Europe: 48 percent to 43 percent. This could reflect what will happen to Biden’s approval ratings on Ukraine (and perhaps overall) once the public hears more about the crisis and has new information on which to base their opinions — such as Biden’s televised announcement on Thursday that he would impose harsh economic sanctions on Russia and not send U.S. troops to Ukraine. As my colleague Geoffrey Skelley wrote at the time, both of those positions are popular among the public.”

Rakich also warns about “potential downsides for Biden,” including “the Morning Consult/Politico poll, 58 percent of registered voters would hold Biden very or somewhat responsible if gasoline prices increased as a result of the conflict.” Rakich concludes, “For now, though, this is all speculation. A wide range of outcomes are still possible. Ukraine could dominate the headlines for the next several months — or some other major event could take place and overshadow it. U.S. involvement in the conflict could prove to be minimal — or the nation could end up getting dragged into war (a lot of this, of course, depends on what Russian President Vladimir Putin does, which is even less predictable). And Biden could prove a deft negotiator of the situation — or he could bungle it.” The great wild card in all of this speculation is the intensity and durability of protest inside Russia. There is no reliable polling data explaining how Russians feel about Putin’s invasion. But Dasha Litvinova reports at Time that “From Moscow to Siberia, Russian anti-war activists took to the streets again Sunday to protest Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, despite the arrests of hundreds of protesters each day by police…According to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests, police detained at least 2,710 Russians in 51 cities for anti-war demonstrations Sunday, bringing the total of those detained over four days to nearly 6,000.”

At U.S. News, Susan Milligan writes in “The Benefit of a Crisis: As global conflicts go, Russia’s threatening posture toward Ukraine is one that could actually work in Joe Biden’s favor” that “as crises go, experts say, this is one that could work to Biden’s benefit….While senators in Biden’s own party are denying his domestic wish list, the question of how to handle Russia will not involve arm-twisting the likes of Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia or Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona….”I think this is a defining moment, not just in the Biden presidency but in Joe Biden’s long political life,” says Fred Kempe, president and CEO of the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank. “To his credit, in his campaign and afterward, he has defined this moment as an inflection point in the systemic struggle between democracies and autocracies. Now he has the challenge to execute against that diagnosis.”….”This is an opportunity for President Biden to show what he’s made of on the foreign policy front. He knows his stuff inside out,” Fiona Hill, a former official at the U.S. National Security Council specializing in Russian and European affairs, said during a recent webinar sponsored by The Common Good…..And unlike some domestic issues or more nuanced foreign policy questions, Russia’s threat to invade Ukraine is an easily digestible matter for Americans, especially those with a memory of the Cold War, says Jeffrey Engel, founding director of the Center for Presidential History at Southern Methodist University….”He can talk about traditional tropes of American foreign policy rhetoric that are impossible to refute. He can say, ‘You can’t appease dictators,'” Engel says.”

2 comments on “Political Strategy Notes

  1. Victor on

    Many low information voters see Russia’s invasion as a consequence of Biden’s perceived weakness. Too late for this perception to change, unless somehow Ukraine manages to win the war with indirect Western help or US brokered negotiations show Putin to be weak.

  2. Martin Lawford on

    Biden will handle the Ukraine crisis so successfully that when it restores his fallen approval ratings Republicans will accuse him of provoking it in a “Wag The Dog” maneuver.


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