In the Thick of It

A blog on the U.S.-Russia relationship
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Russians in 2018 Feel Disenchanted With US, But See China and Russia as Rising Powers

October 05, 2018
RM Staff

Russians’ views of Donald Trump and his country have soured since 2017, though they still see the U.S. in a better light than they did during the penultimate full year of Barack Obama’s presidency, according to Pew’s 25-country Global Attitudes and Trends survey for 2018. This downturn in favorable opinion, we believe, is in part due to Russians’ unrealized hopes for better U.S.-Russian relations following the election of U.S. President Donald Trump. The polls also show that while Russians view the West as declining, they see China as a rising power. They also see their own country as a rising power; however, poll data shows that among the 25 countries surveyed, that view is not widely held.

Overall, Russians polled by Pew had a more negative view of the U.S. than in 2017, and often a more negative view than the median among all 25 countries surveyed. According to Pew, only 26 percent of Russians said they had a favorable view of the U.S., a significant drop from 41 percent in 2017, but still higher than the 15 percent who said so in 2015 (data for Russians’ views of the U.S. in 2016 is not available). Additionally, 55 percent of Russians believe that relations with the U.S. have worsened in the last year. This number is significantly higher than the median of 21 percent among the 25 countries Pew surveyed, including Russia, who believe that their country’s relations with the U.S. have worsened since 2017. While just over half of Russian respondents felt confident that U.S. President Donald Trump would do the right thing regarding global affairs in 2017, that number fell to just 19 percent in 2018. However, Trump is still enjoying greater trust amongst Russians than his predecessor. In 2015, only 11 percent of Russians said they had confidence in Barack Obama. The majority of Russians also believe that Trump’s America is ignoring their country’s interests when making international policy decisions: as many as 65 percent of Russians hold that view.

While Russians’ views of the U.S. have taken a negative turn, the opposite is true for Russians’ views of China. In stark contrast to the quarter of Russians who view the U.S. favorably, 65 percent of Russians say they have a favorable view of China. When China is pitted against the U.S., Russian respondents showed a clear preference for their Asian neighbor. At 34 percent, more Russians see China as the world’s leading economic power, while only 25 percent view the U.S. that way. Regarding world power, just 16 percent of Russians think the U.S. is playing a more important role today than in the past, while 73 percent think China has taken on a more important role. Going forward, 35 percent of Russians would prefer to see China as the world’s leader, while only 13 percent prefer the U.S. This more favorable view of China, as compared to Pew’s 25-country median of 70 percent, could be due not only to the deterioration of Russia’s relations with the West, but Russians’ perceptions of the West’s decline and Russia’s rise.  

Russians also see their own country’s power on the rise. Nearly three-quarters of Russians, 72 percent, see their country as playing a more important role than in the past. Not everyone in the world agrees with that proposition, however. Among the 25 countries surveyed, a median of 41 percent, inclusive of Russia, agreed that Russia is playing a more important role. Additionally, Russian President Vladimir Putin is the second least trusted world leader, with only 30 percent of respondents in 25 countries saying that they have confidence in him to do the right thing in global affairs, coming in just above U.S. President Donald Trump’s 27 percent vote of confidence.

While Russians’ views of the U.S. are not as low as they have been in the recent past—such as the scant 15 percent who viewed the U.S. favorably in 2015—they have fallen markedly in the last year. Meanwhile, Russians continue to see China in a positive light, expressing views that are often more favorable than the median across the 25 countries surveyed.