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Views of Russia

When asked about Russia per se, Americans lean toward a mildly positive feeling. However, when asked about Russia's role in the world, a majority feel that Russia has a mainly negative influence, a large majority has a negative view of its government and its economic system, and a majority has a negative view of President Putin. At the same time, Americans are somewhat optimistic about the prospects for future democratic growth in Russia. Americans see Russia as a moderately powerful player in the world, and most do not see that changing in the near future.

Russia Per Se

In a February 2006 Gallup poll, 58% said they had a very or mostly favorable view of Russia, while 35% had an unfavorable view. That was statistically unchanged from Gallup’s findings of February 2005, February 2004 and February 2003, when 61%, 59% and 63% respectively said they had a favorable view of Russia.[1]

An exception during this period was Gallup’s March 14-15 2003 poll taken days after Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced that Russia would veto a resolution by the US and UK authorizing the use of force against Iraq. At that time 52% of respondents had an unfavorable opinion of Russia, while 41% had a favorable opinion.[2]

Favorable views were found by ABC News in May 2002 (64% favorable) and by Gallup in February 2002 (66%). This was up from Gallup’s February 2001 finding of 52% favorable which and been preceded by a relatively cooler feelings in 1999 and 2000. Prior to this cooler period, a slim but clear majority had a favorable attitude, with only a few interruptions, from 1989 through 1998. [3]

When asked to use a thermometer scale to assess feelings about Russia, Americans have given generally positive attitudes. The German Marshall Fund’s thermometer rating of Russia has consistently shown mildly positive mean scores between 53 and 57 degrees on a scale of 0 to 100 in surveys conducted between 2002 and 2005. The most recent survey in 2005 found a mean of 53 degrees. To compare ranking of Russia with rankings of other countries Americans on average rated Turkey 53 degrees, the European Union 57, Israel 60, Italy 63 and the Palestinians 42. [4]

In 2002 the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations poll found Russians receiving a temperature rating of 55 degrees, recovering from a dip to 49 degrees in 1998. In 1994 respondents gave Russia a 54 degrees rating.[5]

Russia's Role in the World

In contrast to mildly positive views of Russia per se, Americans lean toward feeling that Russia is having a negative influence in the world. An April 2006 WPO poll found a majority of Americans (53%) saying that they believe that Russia is having a “mainly negative influence in the world,” while 40% say it has a mainly positive influence. In BBC/GlobeScan/PIPA polls conducted in November 2005 and November 2004, pluralities of 40% and 44%, respectively, said Russia was having a mainly negative influence in the world and just 34% and 39% said it was mainly positive. [6]

Asked in the April 2006 WPO poll “how Russia uses its military and the threat of force,” 68% said that they had an unfavorable view, while 24% viewed it favorably. [7]

Russia's Government and Economic System

One of the reasons that American views of Russia in general have remained cool may be the perceived lack of democratic development in Russia, especially given the 15 years that have passed since the end of the Cold War. When asked to rate the level of democracy in Russia on a scale of 0 to 10, with 0 meaning not at all democratic and 10 meaning completely democratic, Russia received an average rating of 3.69 in an April 2006 WPO poll. In response to the same question in a September 2005 CCFR/PIPA-KN poll the rating was 3.63.

In comparison to other countries Russia’s level of democracy is rated somewhat low. Russia’s was viewed only slightly better than China’s (2.16) and considerably lower than the United States (7.40) in the April 2006 WPO poll. In September 2005 it ranked at nearly the same levels as Turkey (3.66) and Egypt (3.48) and among the lower half of 14 countries that were rated in the poll.[7]

Americans express a commitment to the development of democracy in Russia. A January 2005 Pew poll asked how much priority should be given to “insuring democracy succeeds in Russia and Eastern Europe.” Seventy percent said it should be a priority (53% said “a priority,” 17% said “top priority.”) [8]

In addition to viewing the current state of democracy in Russia negatively, Americans give Russia's government system poor ratings. In the April 2006 WPO poll 68% said they had an unfavorable view of Russia's system of government, with just 26% saying they have a favorable view.[9]

At the same time, despite widely expressed concern in the US press that Russia is becoming less democratic, this perception is not widespread among the American public. In the April 2006 WPO poll only one in four said that it has become less "democratic and responsive to its people" in recent years. One in three felt that Russia has become more democratic (33%) and 36% felt that it has stayed about the same.[10]

Americans are also considerably optimistic about the advancement of democracy in Russia during the next 10 years. More than 70% believe that 10 years from now, Russia will be much more democratic (8%) or somewhat more democratic (63%), while only 25 percent believe it will be somewhat (19%) or much less (6%) democratic.[10a]

Most Americans also express little concern with the widely reported rise in authoritarianism in Russia. When asked about whether "growing authoritarianism in Russia" is a threat, 61% of Americans polled in a February 2006 Pew survey said that growing authoritarianism in Russia is not a threat (16%) or is a minor threat (45%), very comparable to levels found when the question was asked in October 2005. [11]

Finally, Russia's economic system also gets poor ratings. In the April 2006 WPO poll 72% expressed an unfavorable view of Russia's economic system.[12]

Views of President Vladimir Putin

Consistent with the recent negative views of Russia's influence in the world, Russian President Vladimir Putin is seen more unfavorably than favorably. An April 2006 WPO poll found that 55% have an unfavorable view of Putin, while just 36% said they have a favorable view, with 10% offering no opinion.[13]

Views were less negative a few years ago. An October 2003 Gallup poll found that 38% had a favorable view of Putin while 28% had an unfavorable view. Sixteen percent said they had never heard of him, and 18% had no opinion.[14]

Perceptions of the Strength of Russian Influence Now and in the Future

Americans see Russia as a fairly influential world power, though slightly less influential than in years past. Most recently, a June 2006 WPO poll gave respondents the opportunity to rate Russia and other countries on a 0 to 10 scale, with 10 being extremely influential. Americans gave Russia an average of 5.67--lower than China (6.63), Great Britain (6.61), and Japan (6.2). This is also a bit lower than when CCFR asked this question in June 2002 and found a mean response of 6.5. [15]

Americans tend to assume that Russia's position will remain largely the same in the near future. In June 2006 WPO asked "Thinking about the next ten years, for each of the following countries please tell me if you think that its influence in the world will increase, decrease, or stay about the same." A majority (55%) said that Russia's influence in the world will stay about the same. The percentage saying that it will increase (24%) was a bit higher than the percentage those saying that it will decrease (18%).[16]

More think Russia's influence is likely to increase than to decrease. When only given the option saying that Russia's influence will increase, a majority in a June 2002 CCFR poll said that it will increase. A majority (55%) of Americans said that in world affairs, Russia will play a "greater role … in the next 10 years" than it does today, while only 35% felt that Russia would play a "lesser role" in world affairs.[16a]



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