The images and reporting from Ukraine resulting from Russia’s invasion nearly two months ago have shocked the conscience of many Americans. For most, this is the first time they have ever witnessed a large-scale invasion of a Western country during their lifetime, and they’re able to watch it all unfold with their smartphone.
In our latest Swing Voter Project focus groups, conducted on April 12th with 13 “Trump-to-Biden” voters from Pennsylvania, we learned the war in Ukraine is now the top issue of concern for the largest share of the group, followed by the economy/inflation, gas prices, crime/gun violence, the pandemic, and healthcare.
A slight majority – seven of 13 – are concerned Vladimir Putin will launch nuclear weapons in this war, but only one is so concerned to the point that they are losing sleep over it. Words they used to describe how the war is making them feel included “sad,” “helpless,” “anxious,” “nervous,” and “overwhelmed.”
The good news for the Biden Administration is most of our swing voters – 10 of 13 – approve of how President Biden is handling America’s role in the conflict.
Bill, 59, from Philadelphia, explained:
“The actions he’s taken so far – monetary support, weapons support – I totally agree with it. I don’t think we should be, at this point, stepping in military-wise, at least now. They’re not a part of NATO – Ukraine, that is… So far, so good with what [President Biden] is doing. I wish he could do more, but I think he’s doing what he can at this moment.”
“The one thing that I really do approve of and hopefully, it gets even stiffer, is going after the oligarchs,” remarked Thomas, 58, from Willow Grove, PA. “I don’t agree with anything Putin is doing with this, but if you really can start pinching them and all of a sudden, billionaires start losing enough money, I believe, sooner or later, they’re going to push Putin out because they’re going to say, ‘I can’t put up with losing $50 billion because you want a piece of Ukraine that you think is yours.’ I think that’s where the pressure is going to happen, because I don’t want to make it a military pressure from the U.S. to do it.”
Our swing voters support Biden’s approach of keeping U.S. troops out of Ukraine. They want to avoid that conflict and believe imposing economic pain on Russia would be an effective strategy. In fact, there was unanimous support among our swing voters for American companies to stop doing business with, or operating in, Russia.
David, 40, from Phoenixville, PA, who disapproves of Biden’s handling of America’s role in the conflict, remarked:
“Biden has talked about how with his experience, he has experience dealing with international leaders. What could he have done that could have actually prevented this from happening? I look at history. Putin invaded Crimea in 2014 when Obama was president. When Trump was president, Putin did nothing. And now here we are with Biden as president, and Putin has invaded Ukraine. It makes me wonder: What if Trump were president?”
Notably, there’s a divide among our swing voters about how optimistic they are that the situation in Ukraine will get better in the next six months, with only five saying it will. Those who are optimistic told us Ukraine’s president has been steadfast and successful in fighting back against Russian forces, and the sanctions against wealthy Russians could cause them to push Putin out of power.
Rich Thau is the president of the research firm Engagious, which specializes in message testing and message refinement for trade associations and advocacy groups. He is also the moderator of the Swing Voter Project, conducted in partnership with Schlesinger Group. Matt Steffee is vice president of research services at Engagious.