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James Frayne is Director of Public First and author of Meet the People, a guide to moving public opinion.

Where is public opinion on the crisis in Ukraine and where is it heading? YouGov have published an excellent set of polls in the last couple of weeks – as have a few other pollsters – which help to answer these questions.

As the Editor outlined on this site recently, while politicians have talked tough and regularly committed the British Armed Forces into action in recent years, the public has generally been sceptical. Most think that our various interventions in the Middle East in the last two decades were a mistake. The public isn’t exactly isolationist, but it doesn’t like to see Britain engage abroad when our interests aren’t directly threatened.

Clear majorities oppose proper military intervention in Ukraine now. However, there is widespread and growing support for both sanctions against Russia and for further indirect help to the Ukrainian state. Indeed, the public generally favour a hard line.

A YouGov poll published a few days ago showed the public are divided between those who think sanctions are about right, and those who think they don’t go far enough.

Across a wide range of options, the number of people who think sanctions go too far are small in number. Another YouGov poll, published yesterday, showed majority support not only for further economic sanctions, but also for sending troops to support NATO members in Eastern Europe, cyber-attacks against Russia, the further arming of Ukraine, information operations, and fermenting internal political opposition to the war within Russia.

Surely as a result of the reality of the invasion – which has looked shockingly brutal on our screens – support for tougher sanctions and support for Ukraine has actually increased in the last few days. Evidence from a YouGov poll of a few days before, which asked about support for the same options, suggest that the numbers have moved in favour of a tougher approach.

Interestingly, so far the public have also expressed support for the resettlement of some Ukrainian refugees in the UK. Half the public say Britain has a moral duty to accept some refugees (although Conservative voters reject this). However, when asked how many refugees Britain should take, almost half say either “a few thousand” or “a few tens of thousands” (again, Conservative voters lean towards the lower end). These numbers could move in either direction.

So where will public opinion go next? There are a few points to consider.

First, the earlier poll from YouGov on the options for sanctions and intervention suggested public support would soften if their own lives are affected. So a majority said they would oppose further sanctions if it meant taxes would have to rise to pay for increased defence spending. And more people said they would oppose sanctions than support them if the move meant significantly higher energy costs, oil and gas shortages, and an increase in the cost of living. An Ipsos-MORI poll showed something similar last week.

If the pictures beamed back to the UK from Ukraine look worse than they do now – and the pictures of badly injured and displaced young children are already grim – then it’s possible that people will say financial privations are the least we can tolerate.

However, many will likely conclude they are on the verge of not being able to afford to pay to heat and light their homes. In the event of rapidly rising costs, in the case of a protracted conflict, it is likely the polls that presently indicate a potential softening of support under-state the change.

Second, it also seems reasonable to assume that Putin’s placement of Russian nuclear forces on high alert will make more people consider the implications of even indirect military support. While a separate poll suggests that the public think Britain will get dragged into the conflict somehow, and therefore that some form of confrontation (diplomatic, presumably) is “priced in” to public opinion, it is hard to imagine that Putin’s hard line won’t make somepeople think we’re better off staying out.

To date, political opinion in Britain has been united; the main parties have taken a hard line and the public have followed. People have not yet therefore heard the “realist” case in earnest. You have seen it made around the edges of the media and politics (via Nigel Farage, almost).

As such, relatively few people have called out Liz Truss’ extraordinary comments on Sunday, in which she inexplicably indicated support for volunteers to go to the Ukraine to fight against Russia (and was corrected soon afterwards by Number Ten and the Ministry of Defence). It’s likely that more mainstream voices will soon start to urge caution, and that this in turn will soften support – if not for sanctions, then certainly for indirect military support.

On the other hand – and thirdly – we should consider the reputation of Putin and Russia in this country. British people overwhelmingly believe Russia (Putin, more accurately) has a negative impact on world affairs. The public therefore believe the Government and our allies are on the right side and will be more likely to tolerate difficulties at home as the West seeks to contain Putin.

What does all this mean?

In truth, it’s hard to say because events are moving so fast. However, if we assume the scenes from Ukraine deteriorate as Russian brutality increases, then we can probably expect two things: that the public will favour an extension of sanctions, but that wariness about indirect military support will increase as people will worry about Putin’s reaction. This in turn will encourage “realist” politicians to seek to temper Government rhetoric. This could happen simultaneously very quickly. Beyond this, it’s impossible to say.