Geopolitics

34% of Americans Can Find Ukraine on a Map. They’re More Likely to Support an Aggressive Posture Against Russia

U.S. voters are split on potential responses to Russian aggression in Ukraine, but those who can locate Ukraine are the most combative

Tracking political attitudes around the ukraine crisis

Vladimir Putin’s belligerence on Ukraine was laid bare after a five-hour meeting on Monday with French President Emmanuel Macron, with the Russian president snapping “Do you want France to go to war with Russia?” when asked about the country’s desire to join NATO. 

American voters, for their part, are split narrowly on many of the proposed sanctions and military responses the Biden administration has threatened if Moscow does attack. But a little context goes a long way: Voters who can identify Ukraine on a map are more likely to back stronger policy responses against Russia, according to a new Morning Consult poll.

On the numbers

  • Voters are split evenly over whether the United States should send additional weapons to Ukraine while conducting talks with Russia aimed at resolving tensions, with 41 percent in favor and 42 percent opposed. 
  • Twenty-nine percent said the United States should send more troops to Europe if Russia invades Ukraine, even if it risks their lives. The same number supported more deployments only if U.S. troops were unlikely to be hurt, while 1 in 4 said Washington should not deploy any additional troops. 
  • When asked to find Ukraine on a blank map of Europe, only about 1 in 3 voters correctly located the country, slightly more than the 28 percent who were able to identify Iran on a map roughly two years ago in the wake of a U.S. strike on the Islamic Republic’s most powerful commander. Nearly 3 in 4 voters were able to find Russia on the map.
  • No respondent selected Crimea when asked to identify Russia, which took the peninsula by military force from Ukraine in 2014 and claims to have annexed it, but many did select it when identifying Ukraine. 
  • Voters with a better grasp on Eastern European geography were also more likely than their peers to back assertive positions: 50 percent of those who could locate Ukraine said the U.S. should send arms to Kyiv while negotiating with Russia, compared to 37 percent among those who could not, and 58 percent of voters who could find Ukraine said they’d support the most strenuous sanctions package if Moscow invades the country, compared to 41 percent of voters who could not.

The big picture

“God created war so Americans would learn geography.” 

So goes the apocryphal quote often attributed to Mark Twain, and many U.S. voters are getting a brush-up on Eastern Europe as Russian troops surround Ukraine on three sides and the Kremlin demands Western security concessions in exchange for backing down. President Joe Biden and his European allies have not agreed to Russia’s key demands and are attempting to deter Putin from an attack by threatening crippling sanctions and deploying more troops closer to Ukraine. It’s been hard to miss: About three quarters of U.S. voters said they had heard at least some news about the crisis. That’s about the same number of voters who could correctly place Russia on a map, and far more than the 1 in 3 who could identify Ukraine. 

Notably, those with a bit more geographic acuity were 19 percentage points more likely to report hearing “a lot” about the situation and were 15 points more likely to express concern over it. Accordingly, these voters were also more likely to support the most aggressive responses aiming to deter an invasion or contain Russia should it attack. 

Voters Who Can Locate Ukraine Are More Likely to Back Assertive U.S. Policy

Share of U.S. voters who said the United States should pursue the following policy options:

Poll conducted Feb. 7, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,005 registered U.S. voters, with an unweighted margin of error of +/-2-4 percentage points for responses shown.

By double-digit margins, voters who could find Ukraine on a map were also more likely than those who couldn’t to oppose concessions to Russia such as a promise from NATO leaders that Ukraine will never be able to join the alliance or the pledge of a reduction of its military presence in Europe. Similarly, 46 percent of voters who located Ukraine were against reducing U.S. missile deployments on the continent, compared to 33 percent of those less deft at navigating the former U.S.S.R.

Nearly three-quarters of voters who could find Ukraine said they would support kicking Russia out of the SWIFT international banking system if it again invaded its neighbor, compared to 62 percent of those who could not, and 65 percent said they would support canceling the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, compared to just 51 percent of the other group.

But while the Biden administration can take some comfort in the knowledge its handling of the Ukraine crisis so far has enjoyed broad support among higher-information U.S. voters, it may not be enough. Biden cannot dictate the terms of any sanctions on Russia to his European allies, or deploy troops to their nations without their consent — and Morning Consult polling in January showed adults in Europe were considerably less gung-ho about sanctions and military escalations that would risk draining their pocketbooks or harming their loved ones. 

The poll was conducted Feb. 7, 2022, among a representative sample of 2,005 registered U.S. voters, with an unweighted margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points. Responses among voters who correctly identified Ukraine on a map have a 5-point margin of error.