Zelenskyy gains widespread trust from Americans; view of Putin reaches new low

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy addresses Congress via video at the US Capitol on March 16, 2022. (J. Scott Applewhite/Pool/Getty Images)

Weeks after Russia invaded his country, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews from the American public for his handling of international affairs. About seven in 10 Americans (72%) have a lot or some confidence in Zelenskyy, more than any other international leader asked in a new Pew Research Center survey.

A bar chart showing that about seven in ten Americans trust Zelenskyy;  only 6% say the same about Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin is receiving dismal reviews, with just 6% of American adults expressing confidence in him following his decision to invade Ukraine — an all-time low in surveys dating back nearly two decades. The vast majority of Americans (92%) have little or no confidence in Putin’s handling of world affairs, including 77% who have none at all.

More than half of Americans trust two of Europe’s most prominent leaders, French President Emmanuel Macron (55% confidence) and new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (53%), according to the survey of 3,581 American adults, conducted on 21 -27 March. US confidence in Scholz’s international capabilities is 10 percentage points lower than former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s last year score of 63%.

Pew Research Center conducted this study as part of a larger look at Americans’ attitudes to foreign policy. The questions shown here gauge trust in international leaders. For this analysis, we surveyed 3,581 adults in the US from March 21 to 27, 2022. Everyone who participated in this survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. In this way, almost all American adults have a chance of being selected. The survey was weighted to be representative of the US adult population based on gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education, and other categories. Read more about the ATP method.

These are the questions used for the report, along with the answers and methodology.

Chinese President Xi Jinping continues to receive poor reviews, with only 15% of Americans saying they trust him. Ratings for the Chinese leader have not changed in the past year.

Americans are deeply divided about the way their own president conducts international affairs: 48% say they have confidence in President Joe Biden in this regard, while 52% say they don’t trust too much or not at all. As with Biden’s overall approval rating, attitudes toward his approach to global affairs have become more negative since the start of his tenure, when six in 10 American adults expressed confidence in him. Democrats and Democratic-oriented independents express much more confidence in Biden’s international capabilities (75%) than Republicans and Republican leaners (16%).

The public has less confidence in Vice President Kamala Harris’ handling of international affairs than in Biden’s. Only 43% of Americans trust Harris to do the right thing regarding world affairs, while a majority (56%) have little or no confidence in her. Harris has been sent to Europe several times during the crisis in Ukraine, including to the Munich Security Conference in the days before the Russian invasion.

Demographic, partisan disagreements over Zelenskyy, Putin

A bar chart showing that Democrats, older adults and the highly educated have more confidence in Zelenskyy

In the month since the start of a bloody defensive war with Russia, Zelenskyy has mobilized Ukrainian troops to fend off the invasion and has called on Western powers — especially the United States — to provide his country with more weapons and aid. Americans seem to take a positive view of the Ukrainian leader’s actions so far: of the 72 percent who express confidence that Zelensky will do the right thing regarding world affairs, a third say expressly a lot of trust in him. Only about a quarter of American adults (26%) have little or no confidence in the Ukrainian leader.

Older Americans are much more confident in Zelensky’s leadership skills than younger generations. In fact, nearly half of Americans age 65 and older have a a lot of confidence in Zelenskyy, compared with 28% of adults under 30. Americans with higher education, especially those with postgraduate degrees, also have more confidence in the Ukrainian president.

The partisan disagreements over Zelenskyy have been relatively muted, in line with the public’s wider views on the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Still, Democrats and those leaning toward the Democratic Party have more than Republicans and Republican leaners to trust Zelenskyy (80% vs. 67%).

A line graph showing a record number of Americans say they don't trust Putin

Putin, for his part, signs the least confidence of American adults among the world leaders included in the survey. The proportion of Americans (92%) who say they do not trust Putin is the highest measured in Pew Research Center surveys.

During the administration of former President Donald Trump, partisan divisions arose over Putin, with Republicans trusting his leadership more than Democrats. But in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin’s views have converged, with roughly equal shares of Democrats and Republicans saying they have no confidence in the Russian president (94% and 92%).

A chart showing that partisans differ across various world leaders, but few in either party express confidence in Putin

Partisans are clearer when it comes to ratings of world leaders other then Putin. For example, about two-thirds of Democrats express confidence in Macron and Scholz, while only about four in ten Republicans say they have confidence in every European leader. Ideology is a major factor in partisans’ assessments of Macron and Scholz, with conservative Republicans reporting the least confidence and liberal Democrats the most.

Note: Here are the questions used for the report, along with the answers and methodology.

Jacob Pushter is an associate director who focuses on global attitudes at Pew Research Center.

Aidan Connaughton is a research assistant focusing on global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.

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