New polls show that war fatigue may be setting in
On the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion, Western leaders have been working to demonstrate their unwavering commitment to the Ukrainian cause. As part of a surprise visit to Kyiv today, US President Joe Biden announced new military assistance and further sanctions on Moscow, while in Munich, European allies promised more military and financial support to Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Yet for all the solidarity on show among the leadership, cracks may be starting to emerge back home. In America, a new AP poll has found that less than half of Americans (48%) are in favour of providing weapons to Ukraine, down from 60% in May 2022. Separately, a Pew poll from this year revealed that the share of Americans who say the US is providing too much support to Ukraine has grown from 7% in March 2022 to 26% in January 2023. What’s more, the share of Americans who said that the US is not providing enough support has dropped from 42% to 20% in the same period.
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Biden may only have to concern himself with public opinion in his own country, but EU leaders must also contend with maintaining unity between their countries too. New polls reveal a wide spread in opinions about the conflict, even if most countries are generally supportive of Ukraine. According to the EU’s Autumn 2022 barometer, approval of the EU’s support for Ukraine is resilient at 74%, with the highest figures in Sweden (97%) and Finland (95%) and the lowest further south in Bulgaria (48%) and Greece (48%).
But these questions, commissioned by the EU, are (perhaps deliberately) vague. Respondents are asked whether they approve or disapprove of the EU’s ‘support’ for Ukraine without detailing what support that entails (beyond humanitarian, financial and military) and whether they are ‘satisfied’ with the cooperation between member states.
Other polls are more enlightening. For instance, one recent Ipsos survey shows a downward trend in support for sending weapons and/or air-defence systems to Ukraine in Europe, with German support falling below half for the first time (down by seven percentage points to 48% between March-April 2022 and November-December 2022) and the Netherlands (down by six percentage points to 59%).
More surprising, though, is that even among Ukraine’s loudest supporters there appears to be some degree of war-weariness: in the same Ipsos survey, there was a 10-percentage point decline among Poles supporting the most stringent economic sanctions against Russia and an 11-percentage point decline in accepting Ukrainian refugees.
Out of all the EU countries, Germany is a particularly interesting case. Despite a wholesale reconfiguration of German foreign policy, Olaf Scholz has faced heavy criticism for perceived slowness in providing military support to Kyiv. Now, he has turned into one of Ukraine’s loudest defenders, urging other countries to speed up arms deliveries to Ukraine and warning that it would be “wise to prepare for a long war”. But how have Germans received this message back home?
Previous polling may offer some clues. According to one January Forsa poll, an astonishing 80% of Germans said that it was more important to end the conflict quickly with negotiations than for Ukraine to win. Similarly, a survey of nine EU countries by Euroskopia found that over 60% of Austrians and Germans want the war to end quickly whereas the Dutch, Portuguese and Polish are strongly opposed to this idea.
War fatigue thus appears to be setting in faster in Germany than in any other country, with public opinion hardening in recent months. Almost half of Germans (43%) now agree that ‘the problems of Ukraine are none of our business, and we should not interfere’, marking an 11-percentage point increase from March-April 2022 to November-December 2022. This may go some way towards explaining the rise of Sahra Wagenknecht, one of the co-leaders of Die Linke, who is, with some success, spearheading an anti-war movement in Germany.
Western leaders displayed remarkable levels of unity during the first year of the war. One year in, however, and their voters are beginning to be more hesitant in their commitment.