NEW YORK (Reuters) - A majority of Americans believe that Russia paid the Taliban to kill U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan last year amid negotiations to end the war, and more than half want to respond with new economic sanctions against Moscow, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Wednesday.
The national opinion poll conducted on Monday and Tuesday shows that the American public remains deeply suspicious of Russia four years after it tried to tip the U.S. presidential election in Donald Trump’s favor, and most Americans are unhappy with how the president has handled relations with the country.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll follows a series of reports, including several by Reuters, that Russia had been rewarding Taliban-affiliated militants, possibly by offering them bounties, to attack and kill U.S. troops in the region. Moscow denies the allegations.
The New York Times and Washington Post both reported that several American soldiers were believed to have died as a result of the bounties.
Trump said last week he was not told about the reported Russian effort, because intelligence officials were uncertain about its veracity. The New York Times reported that the president received written briefings about the program earlier this year, and it was also included in a widely read CIA report in May.
Overall, 60% of Americans said they found reports of Russian bounties on American soldiers to be “very” or “somewhat” believable, while 21% said they were not credible and the rest were unsure.
Thirty-nine percent said they thought Trump “did know” about Russia’s targeting of the U.S. military before reports surfaced in the news media last month, while 26% said the president “did not know.”
Eighty-one percent of Americans said they viewed Russian President Vladimir Putin as a threat to the United States, including 24% who saw him as an “imminent threat.” Only 35% said they approved of Trump’s handling of Russia, compared with 52% who disapproved.
Fifty-four percent said the United States should punish Russia with economic sanctions, while 9% supported strikes on its military, another 9% wanted to move on and try to improve relations with Russia, and 29% said they were not sure.
NEW RE-ELECTION HURDLE
The Russia allegations appear to have become another hurdle for the president’s re-election campaign, which has already been hamstrung by Trump’s uneven response to the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 133,000 Americans and dragged the economy into recession.
Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee to face Trump in the Nov. 3 election, leads the Republican president by 6 percentage points among registered voters. Biden’s lead, which had been as large as 13 points in June, has narrowed over the past few weeks as the number of undecided voters and the number who supported third-party candidates increased slightly.
Biden has criticized Trump’s handling of the reported allegations as a “dereliction of duty,” while Democrats in Congress called for the president to consider imposing new economic sanctions on Russia if the report was confirmed.
White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said Trump would take “strong action” if the reports proved to be true, although the administration has yet to announce any specific actions in response.
In the latest poll, just 38% of Americans said they approved of Trump’s overall performance in office, while 57% disapproved. Reuters/Ipsos polling has shown the president has been shedding support among groups including independents, older voters and white men.
The Reuters/Ipsos poll was conducted online, in English, throughout the United States. It gathered responses from 1,114 adults and had a credibility interval, a measure of precision, of 3 percentage points.
Reporting by Chris Kahn; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Peter Cooney