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Pick Your Poison: Views on Russia and Iran

Today's reports of a "positive" exchange between President Obama and his Russian counterpart come as the American public holds its most negative rating of Russia since early 2003 when the former cold war adversary publicly opposed the start of the Iraq war.

But Iran, a subject of the letter Obama sent to President Demetri Medvedev in mid-February, ranks at the bottom of the list of countries tested in the Gallup poll, making Russia the lesser of two evils in the public eye.

In the recent Gallup poll, 53 percent of Americans said they had an unfavorable view of Russia, 40 percent held a positive view. About Iran, just 12 percent expressed a favorable opinion; 80 percent were negative.

For Russia, the new rating ties those from the eve of the Iraq war as the most negative since 9/11. After the 2001 terrorist attacks, a quick thaw in U.S.-Russian relations led public perceptions of Russia to improve dramatically.

At the start of 2002, 66 percent of Americans expressed favorable views about Russia. With the exception of the blip downwards in March 2003, ratings of Russia have declined in steady fashion since the post-9/11 high (% favorable 2002 66%; Feb. 2003 63%; March 2003 40%; 2004 59% ; 2005 61%; 2006 58%; 2007 53%; 2008 48%; 2009 40%).

Most Americans in a January Pew Research Center poll said Russia's tensions with neighboring counties represents a threat to the United States, but far fewer said that is a "major threat" (37 percent) than said so about Iran's nuclear program (65 percent).

There's little evident partisanship in public views about Russia in the new Gallup data, though Republicans have somewhat more negative opinions: 35 percent of Republicans have unfavorable views toward Russia, as do 42 percent of independents and 45 percent of Republicans.

Republicans are also more apt than others to see Iran's nuclear program as a menace to the U.S. in the Pew poll: 77 percent of Republicans, 63 percent of independents and 65 percent of Democrats see the Iranian effort as a major threat.

Full Gallup trend on attitudes toward Russia available here

January Pew poll available here

Favorability

Russia

[Chart]

Iran

[Chart]

By Jon Cohen  |  March 3, 2009; 12:56 PM ET
Categories:  Polls  
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