Watch CBS News

Americans disapprove of Obama's handling of Ukraine crisis

By Sarah Dutton, Jennifer De Pinto, Anthony Salvanto and Fred Backus

President Obama: Ukraine and Foreign Policy

While a majority of Americans (56 percent) support U.S. sanctions against Russia, they are less pleased with President Obama's handling of the situation between Russia and Ukraine overall. Forty-six percent disapprove of how Mr. Obama is handling these events, while fewer - 38 percent - approve.

Looking more broadly at the president and the United States' image in the world, more Americans now say the image of the U.S. has grown worse (43 percent) since Mr. Obama became president, rather than better (32 percent). One in five thinks his presidency has had no effect.

This is a reversal from the early years of the Obama presidency. In 2009, when the President enjoyed higher approval ratings, 60 percent said the United States' image in the world had improved.


Opinions on this question have become more pessimistic among Americans of all partisan stripes, although most Democrats still say the image of the U.S. has improved.

More generally, a majority of Americans (53 percent) have at least some confidence in the president's ability to handle an international crisis, but just 28 percent have a lot. Back in the fall of 2012, 40 percent of voters expressed a lot of confidence in Mr. Obama on this measure.

Still, Americans continue to think the president is a strong leader. Fifty-three percent think he's a strong leader compared to 45 percent who don't think so.

The President's Job Ratings

Mr. Obama's overall approval rating is now 43 percent, similar to what it was last month. 50 percent disapprove of the job he is doing.

The president's ratings on specific issues remain mostly negative. As Mr. Obama travels in Europe this week, more Americans continue to disapprove than approve of his handling of foreign policy. The same is true for his handling of the economy and health care. Fewer now approve of the president's handling of immigration and Afghanistan compared to last year.

Mr. Obama continues to receive his most positive marks on handling terrorism - 53 percent approve of the job he is doing on that issue.


Other Political Figures

In the CBS News Poll's first measure of John Kerry's performance as Secretary of State, 44 percent approve of the job he is doing, while 36 percent disapprove. One in five does not have an opinion.

First lady Michelle Obama gets especially positive ratings from the American public. Amid her trip to China, 68 percent approve of how Michelle Obama is handling her role as first lady; just 26 percent disapprove. Americans across the political spectrum give Mrs. Obama net positive ratings. She is extremely popular among Democrats - 88 percent approve of how she is handling her role as first lady.

Russia and Ukraine

There are limits to what Americans think the U.S. can accomplish regarding the recent Russian annexation of Crimea in Ukraine. Fifty-seven percent of Americans think the situation between Russia and Ukraine is beyond the control of the U.S.; just 37 percent think it is a conflict the U.S. can do something about.

So far, the U.S. and other countries have responded to Russia's annexation of Crimea by enacting sanctions, something most Americans (56 percent) - and most partisans (55 percent of Republicans, 61 percent of Democrats) -- approve of.

But few Americans are hopeful that sanctions will be effective at changing Russia's actions in Ukraine and Crimea. Just 32 percent think sanctions will be at least somewhat effective, and most - 58 percent - think sanctions will be not very or not at all effective. Democrats are a little more optimistic about the effectiveness of sanctions than are Republicans or independents.

Americans stop short when it comes to providing military aid and equipment to Ukraine. Just 26 percent think the U.S. should do so in response to Russia's actions, and far more - 65 percent - think the U.S. should not, including majorities of Republicans (59 percent), Democrats (67 percent), and independents (69 percent).

Looking ahead, Americans think an expansion of the conflict is likely. Sixty-nine percent think it is at least somewhat likely that the situation between Russia and Ukraine will become a more widespread conflict involving neighboring countries and other parts of Europe, including 27 percent who think that is very likely.

Most Americans don't think the U.S. is obliged to intervene there: 61 percent of Americans do not think the U.S. has a responsibility to do something about the situation between Russia and Ukraine, nearly twice as many as think the U.S. does have that responsibility. There is widespread bipartisan agreement on this.

Public opinion about Ukraine is similar to views about U.S. responsibility in other international conflicts. Majorities of Americans did not think the U.S. had a responsibility to intervene in Syria (68 percent), in the fighting and ethnic cleansing in Bosnia (65 percent) or in the mass killings in Rwanda (51 percent). In contrast, 54 percent of Americans believed the U.S. did have a responsibility to intervene in Kosovo, a situation where the U.S. began a bombing campaign against Serbian forces in cooperation with NATO.

Thirty-six percent of Americans say they have heard or read a lot about the situation between Russia and Crimea, and those who have are far more likely to believe the U.S. has a responsibility to do something (45 percent) than those paying less attention (25 percent). Still, 51 percent of those who have heard or read a lot about the situation think the U.S. does not have a responsibility to get involved.

U.S.-Russia Relations

Perceptions of the relationship between the U.S. and Russia have changed dramatically from just a few years ago.

Today, 42 percent of Americans think of Russia as either an ally or friendly to the U.S., down from 68 percent in 2007 and 80 percent in 2003. Fifty-one percent now see Russia as either unfriendly or an enemy, up significantly since 2003 and 2007.


Intervention and the U.S. Role in the World

In general, Americans are skeptical of the U.S. taking a lead role in solving international conflicts. While 36 percent of Americans think the U.S. should do so, most - 58 percent - do not.

The poll also points to perceptions of a decline in the power of the U.S. as a world leader; 59 percent think the U.S. is less powerful than it was 10 years ago.

Congress and the Midterms

Republicans begin the midterm campaign cycle with an edge in voter enthusiasm and attention - much of which seems driven by the chance to voice opposition to President Obama.

Seventy percent of Republican voters are already enthusiastic about voting in November (including 27 percent who are very enthusiastic), compared to 58 percent of Democrats. Meanwhile half of independents and four in 10 voters overall say they are not excited.

In a disparity that would have a decisive impact if it remains in November, 81 percent of Republicans say they're definitely going to vote in November, versus 68 percent of Democrats. These data are best read as a reflection of the enthusiasm difference as the campaign starts, rather than as predictive of turnout.

Twenty-one percent of Republican voters say they're already paying a lot of attention to the midterms, compared to 16 percent of Democrats.

Although he won't be on the ballot in November, most Republican voters (52 percent) see the upcoming midterm elections as a chance to vote against the president. By contrast, fewer Democrats (43 percent) see 2014 as a chance to support President Obama. For most independents (55 percent) the president isn't a factor at all - but those who see a connection are breaking more than two-to-one against him.

In September of 2010, by contrast, things were more even, with 23 percent of voters looking to cast a ballot for President Obama and 25 percent against him.

Leaving enthusiasm and attention aside, Republicans and Democrats are even (39 percent each) in the "generic ballot" test, which asks whether voters would prefer the Democrat or Republican in their own district, if elections were held today. Three in 10 independents don't know yet. Republicans currently hold the House and a stalemate on the generic ballot would put them in position to keep it.

Congressional approval stands at just 18 percent now, up slightly from 13 percent last month, and above the low of 9 percent reached last fall.



The U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear oral arguments in two cases that test the mandatory health insurance coverage of prescription birth control for women employees under the Affordable Care Act. A majority thinks that religious-affiliated organizations should be allowed to opt out of covering those costs in their insurance coverage, as the law allows. But 51 percent think companies and non-religious organizations should have to cover those things for their women employees.

Women (55 percent) are more likely than men (47 percent) to say that companies and non-religious organizations should have to cover prescription contraception for women employees. However, their views are similar for religious organizations: majorities of men and women think such organizations should be able to opt out of this coverage.


More Americans disapprove (53 percent) than approve (41 percent) of the Affordable Care Act - this has been the case since the law was passed.

But the percentage of Americans who say signup on the health care exchanges is going well has steadily increased since the web site was launched last October. Still, just 27 percent say it is going well.


The State of the Economy

Views of the economy remain about where they have been for over a year: just over a third (3 percent) rates the economy good, while far more (61 percent) say it is bad.

The economy remains the nation's top priority, and just a quarter thinks it is improving; 30 percent think it is getting worse. Those views have also remained fairly consistent over the past year.


A majority of Americans (56 percent) think illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for citizenship. Just 12 percent think they should be allowed to stay legally but not apply for citizenship, and another 29 percent think they should be required to leave the country. There has been little change in these views since the beginning of the year.


Just 11 percent think another terrorist attack in the U.S. is very likely in the next few months, and another 31 percent think that is somewhat likely. Concerns rose after terror events, such as the Boston Marathon Bombing in 2013 and the "underwear bombing" attempt in December 2009.

Sixty-four percent think the U.S. is adequately prepared to deal with another terrorist attack, while 34 percent say it is not.


U.S. troops are scheduled to leave Afghanistan by the end of this year, but there are doubts about that country's stability. Two in three Americans think it is not very or not at all likely that Afghanistan will be a stable country once U.S. troops are gone.


This poll was conducted by telephone March 20-23, 2014 among a total of 1,097 adults nationwide. Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by Social Science Research Solutions of Media, PA. Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus three percentage points.

This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.