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Most Americans don't like Biden's Ukraine response and worry about inflation

U.S. President Joe Biden attends a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium. A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds a majority of Americans don't like his response to the war in Ukraine.
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U.S. President Joe Biden attends a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium. A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds a majority of Americans don't like his response to the war in Ukraine.

Americans are watching the war in Ukraine closely, and most do not like how the U.S. is responding.

A new NPR/Ipsos poll finds that a majority of Americans think President Biden has not done a good job in his handling of the war. Many say the president has been too cautious, even as a majority say they're wary of sparking a broader conflict.

"The American people are supportive of Ukraine, up to a point," said Chris Jackson, a senior vice president at Ipsos, which conducted the poll.

More than 6 in 10 Americans want the U.S. to give Ukraine some of the support it wants, while still trying to avoid a larger military conflict with Russia. Fewer than 2 in 10 say the U.S. should give Ukraine everything it wants, even if it risks a wider war.

Those responses were remarkably consistent across the political spectrum with strong majorities of Republicans, Democrats and independents all in agreement. But when Americans are asked to assess President Biden's performance, that bipartisan consensus breaks down.

"What he's doing is fundamentally what the American people want," Jackson said. "But even if Biden is doing everything that people want to do, he's not going to get a lot of credit for it."

Disapproval is highest among Republicans

Overall, only 36% of Americans say Biden is doing a good job in response to the war in Ukraine, while 52% say he's not. That disapproval is driven largely by the GOP: 81% of Republicans rated Biden's response as fair or poor. On the other hand, 62% of Democrats described the president's response as good or excellent.

And 45% of respondents say President Biden has been too cautious in supporting Ukraine. Only 7% think the U.S. should be doing less in Ukraine, compared with 39% who think it should be doing more.

The poll was conducted from March 18-21, before Biden traveled to Europe to meet with NATO allies in an emergency session on the Ukraine war.

Most Americans say they're paying close attention to Ukraine. More than 90% of respondents answered correctly that Russia invaded Ukraine, not the other way around. And more than 80% know that the U.S. has imposed economic sanctions in response.

It appears that Russian disinformation campaigns have mostly failed to sway large numbers of Americans. For example, only 2% of poll respondents believe the false claim that Ukraine is governed by Nazis.

However, another Russian conspiracy theory has gotten some traction. One in 10 poll respondents believe that the U.S. operates biological weapons labs in Ukraine. Only 33% of respondents correctly identified that statement as false, while more than half say they don't know.

There's broad support for Ukrainian refugees

The poll found bipartisan support for accepting Ukrainian refugees.

Nearly 3 in 4 Americans say the U.S. should take in Ukrainian civilians fleeing the war in their country. That includes two-thirds of Republicans, who tend to be more skeptical of refugees and asylum-seekers.

The poll was conducted before the Biden administration announced that the U.S. will welcome up to 100,000 Ukrainians and other displaced people fleeing the conflict in Ukraine.

Support for Ukrainian refugees did not necessarily extend to other groups seeking protection in the U.S. When asked if the U.S. should admit Russians who voice opposition to their government, only 62% of Americans agreed. That was similar to the number who support admitting people fleeing violence in other parts of the world, including Afghanistan, Syria and Central America.

Inflation tops the list of concerns

For all the attention on Ukraine, the crisis there is not a top concern for most Americans.

Their biggest worry by far is inflation. In our poll, 40% of Americans — including 60% of Republicans — rate "inflation or increasing costs" as their top concern. Political extremism, crime and climate change were also high on the list.

The poll suggests that inflation is overshadowing more positive news about the economy. Fewer than half of Americans think the unemployment rate is lower than it was a year ago (it is), and only 40% say wages are rising faster than they have in more than a decade (they are).

But Americans are extremely aware of rising costs: 94% say the cost of food, gas and housing has gone up in the past year.

Nearly half of poll respondents say they've stopped driving long distances or made other changes because of rising costs.

That includes Linda Kelly, a Republican from Topeka, Kansas, who participated in the poll. Kelly says she has limited her trips to Kansas City, about a 45 minute drive away, and is buying less beef because prices are up.

"I didn't get any pay raise or anything like that," Kelly said in a follow-up interview. "My employer didn't offer us any bonus benefits to stay. And yet all these other things are going up, up, up. So I actually took a pay cut in the long run. So I think the economy right now sucks."

The blame for inflation breaks along party lines

When it comes to assigning blame for inflation, the responses tend to break along partisan lines. Democrats point to a wide range of factors, including the war in Ukraine and lingering effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

"International and national events happened that just collided," Colleen Holland, a Democratic voter from Arlington, Va., said in a follow-up interview. "You know, with Ukraine and Russia and, you know, the pandemic. But I don't blame the current administration."

For Republicans, the calculus is simpler: 2 out of 3 say President Biden is most responsible for rising food and gas costs.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Joel Rose is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers immigration and breaking news.