Feb 4, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Swing voters: Keep military out of Ukraine

U.S. troops are seen Thursday deploying to Europe.

U.S. troops deploy for Europe on Thursday from Pope Army Airfield at Fort Bragg, N.C. Photo: Allison Joyce/AFP via Getty Images

Some Trump-to-Biden swing voters are reflexively opposed to U.S. military involvement in Ukraine, even if Russia invades.

Why it matters: This key takeaway from Axios' latest Engagious/Schlesinger focus groups comes as President Biden deploys the first major group of U.S. troops to shore up NATO defenses in Eastern Europe in response to Russia's buildup on the border.

  • Voters' views on U.S. obligations in the region could impact Biden's popularity and indirectly shape the outcome of this year's midterms.
  • While the president thus far has ruled out sending troops directly into Ukraine, which is not a NATO member, the Pentagon says 2,000 U.S. troops will be deployed to Germany and Poland. Another 1,o00 based in Germany are being sent to Romania.
  • The move comes months after the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan. While Americans supported a withdrawal, they were critical of the chaos and casualties around the exit — and Biden's job approval numbers have been declining since.

Details: Nine out of 12 respondents in Tuesday night's two panels said they believe the president should not send troops to Ukraine if Russia attacks its former client state.

  • Seven said he should condemn the attack and impose economic sanctions, while two said if such an incursion occurs, Biden should only verbally condemn it.
  • Eight of the 12 had known before the information was relayed to them — inside the focus group sessions — that Russian troops have been amassing on the border of neighboring Ukraine.

Between the lines: Eight of the participants said they see Russia primarily as a competitor.

  • Only four described it as a threat to the U.S.

How it works: The sessions were comprised of voters in key swing states who backed Donald Trump in 2016 but switched to Joe Biden in 2020.

  • While a focus group is not a statistically significant sample like a poll, the responses show how some voters in crucial states are thinking and talking about current events.

What they’re saying: “I think [Biden] needs to be very careful how he handles any type of war, given what happened with Afghanistan,” said Stephanie T., 27, from Scottsdale, Ariz.

  • “I see North Korea and China to be more of a threat, with Russia below them as a competitor,” said Steven F., 61, from Philadelphia, Pa.

The bottom line: Engagious president Rich Thau, who moderated the focus groups, said: “With Trump-Biden voters mostly viewing Russia as a competitor and not a threat, there’s not a strong desire to put U.S. troops in harm’s way for Ukraine."

  • He added, "Some of these voters remain post-Afghanistan reticent, or question the Biden family’s business dealings in the region.”

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the number of participants who knew of the amassing of Russian troops at the Ukraine border. It was eight, not four.

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