Russian President Vladimir Putin is enjoying rising popularity among Republicans according to a new poll from the Pew Research Center.
The poll found that the share of Republicans expressing confidence in Putin doubled to 34 percent from 17 percent in 2015, when Donald Trump launched a campaign for the White House that was seen as friendly toward Moscow.
Though most Americans view Russia negatively, Moscow’s overall popularity in the United States has risen since 2014, when it plummeted after the country annexed Crimea. Twenty-nine percent of Americans now have a favorable view, compared with 19 percent in 2014, the poll found.
But the partisan gap is stark, as congressional committees and federal investigators scrutinize Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, including hacks of Democratic operatives’ email accounts. The investigations are eyeing any ties between Russia and Trump’s campaign, though the president calls the probe a “hoax.”
Just 13 percent of Democrats have confidence in Putin, the poll found. And while 61 percent of Democrats consider Russia a major national security risk, only 36 percent of Republicans do, the poll of 1,505 adults conducted from Feb. 16 to March 15 found. The poll had a margin of error of 3 percentage points.
The partisan gap is a recent development, said Margaret Vice, a senior researcher at Pew and the lead author on the report.
“We’ve seen quite a shift on the side of Republicans, with Republicans now being much more favorable toward Russia,” Vice said, adding that the shift was “quite significant.”
The ideological split exists in other countries as well, she said, with those on the right in Italy, Greece and Australia also holding warmer views toward Putin.
“Those who place themselves on the right of the spectrum are much more likely to be confident in Putin as a leader,” she said.
But Vice said the American right’s recent warmth toward Putin still stood out.
“In most of the 13 countries in which ideology was asked in 2015 and 2017, the ideological split in views toward Russia and Putin have not changed significantly, outside of the U.S.,” Vice said.
Still, Americans have an overwhelmingly negative view of the country, with just 14 percent saying Russia respects the personal freedoms of its people.
Russia’s popularity in the United States used to be substantially higher — nearly half of Americans had a favorable view in 2010 — but tumbled after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. Russian government forces continue to assist Ukrainian separatists. Putin’s government also has sided with Syrian President Bashar Assad in the civil war there, and it has tried, mostly through influence campaigns, to destabilize democracies from Europe to the United States.
Trump frequently praised Putin during the campaign, and the two spoke at length during a recent G-20 meeting in Hamburg. Improved relations with Russia were a centerpiece of Trump’s foreign policy platform, but the revelations of election interference have all but eliminated the possibility of any rekindled friendship in the near future.
Trump recently begrudgingly signed new sanctions on the Russian regime after they were passed by veto-proof majorities in Congress.