Gallup is out with one of the more interesting polls I have seen recently. The poll asked Americans whether or not they approved of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s plan to eliminate Syria’s chemical weapons arsenal. By a four-to-one margin (72 to 18 percent), they give it a thumbs-up.
Those numbers might lead you to think that Americans harbor some good will for the Russian president. After all, he helped stave off (at least for now) a U.S. military operation in Syria that most Americans think is a bad idea.
Far from it. Gallup found that Americans by a nearly three-to-one margin (54 to 19 percent) view him unfavorably. To put that number in perspective, a decade ago when Putin was criticizing the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq, more Americans viewed him favorably (38 percent) than unfavorably (28 percent).
What accounts for Putin’s high unfavorability rating? It could be his decision to allow Edward Snowden to stay in Russia. Or it might be his policies suppressing the rights of gays and lesbians in Russia. Among Americans who are aware Russian actions in either instance, roughly two-thirds disapprove.
Or the culprit might be a broader concern that Russia intends to contest American foreign policy—and might succeed on occasion. Gallup found for the first time in at least fifteen years that more Americans view Russia as an enemy of the United States (16 percent) or as unfriendly to U.S. interests (34 percent) than as friendly (31 percent) or an ally (13 percent).
Regardless of the reason, Americans like what Putin has done on Syria but they are suspicious because he’s the one doing it. While nearly three-quarters of Americans favor Putin’s plan, just half think that his involvement helped U.S. interests. More than a third think it was harmful.
So when it comes to the U.S. view of Putin, let’s just say “it’s complicated.”