By Simon Erskine Locke
A NewsNation opinion survey on Putin’s war in Ukraine shows Americans strongly supporting sanctions against Russia, even if they contribute to higher gas prices, and an unwillingness to put U.S. boots on the ground. It also shows 80% of those surveyed at least somewhat concerned about the use of nuclear weapons.
Despite the risks that are all too well understood, the survey underscores a bipartisan level of public support for the steps the U.S. is taking – and that is being reflected in Washington’s shifting political sands.
A recent opinion article in the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper, “The desperate people of Ukraine need help, not self-satisfied social media posts” makes a valid point, but also arguably misses the big picture takeaway from the war – public opinion matters. Sharing support with Ukraine and its people matters.
It’s not because a Tweet will, on its own, make a difference. But a sea of yellow and blue across the world, reflected even in the Queen of England’s flower choices, is clearly stirring people into action.
I have colleagues and friends in Ukraine. And, every day at 11:11 a.m., symbolically chosen to reflect the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month when WWI ended, I have been posting something, as one way to show my support. Millions of people worldwide are taking action, ranging from expressing support to going to fight.
This is “people power” at work. While the president and members of Congress are increasingly singing from the same song sheet against Putin, it’s important to ask whether or not this unity would exist if Americans were not united. History shows us that where there is division or a lack of interest, Washington does not act.
It is easy to understand why some are aggrieved or call out what they see as hypocrisy in the U.S. response to Ukraine compared to its response to other equally brutal conflicts. While we should not gloss this over, we should be reminded as marketers and communicators that people have power – public opinion counts.
This is clear in Ukraine, with ordinary people picking up weapons, alongside members of the military, to defend their country from an invading force bent on crushing their freedom and democracy. It is also clear that in the U.S., individuals showing their support for Ukraine against Putin is the foundation for the actions the government is taking.
The NewsNation survey also reminds us of the limits of public support and the tendency to focus on what is immediately in front of us. With Russia in the spotlight, China is viewed as a lesser threat. But it is clearly complicit with Russia’s actions, actively supporting Putin, and has crushed democracy in Hong Kong.
Oil producing nations in the Middle East that are not currently the focus of the public attention, are clearly using the opportunity to leverage high prices to extract concessions from the U.S., as well as line their coffers.
It is inevitable that as public focus broadens to the range of players on the wrong side of history or seeking to exploit the war, the political spines in Washington will have no choice but to stiffen. Right will be more important than realpolitik.
The unique nature and resonance of Putin’s attack on Ukraine is that it is an attack on freedom and democracy. It is personal. It has galvanized public opinion and reminded us of the power of the people to drive action.
Current public support for Ukraine, however it is expressed, is a wake-up call for what we can do and achieve when united as a nation.