Majority of voters say Biden is too lenient with Russia: poll

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A majority of voters say President Biden is too lenient with Russia as Moscow undertakes a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, according to a Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey released Friday.

Sixty-four percent of registered voters in the survey said Biden is "too lenient" with Russia, while 31 percent said he handles Moscow "just right." Five percent said he's "too tough."

The poll was conducted as Russia launched a sprawling offensive against Ukraine, sending troops into Ukrainian territory on three different fronts while launching rockets and missiles in and around major cities like Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

The invasion followed weeks of warnings from the U.S. and European allies that such an offensive would be met with massive economic sanctions against Russia, though no Western power has indicated an appetite for sending troops directly into Ukraine to beat back Russian forces.

Biden unveiled a second tranche of sanctions Thursday targeting Russian banks holding a combined $1 trillion in assets, including Russia's two largest financial institutions, Sberbank and VTB Bank, and Kremlin-linked Russian oligarchs.

The levies, however, did not include more drastic steps like kicking Russia out of the SWIFT international banking system or targeting Russian President Vladimir Putin personally.

"The sanctions we imposed exceed SWIFT," Biden said Thursday. "The sanctions we imposed exceed anything that's ever been done. The sanctions we imposed have generated two-thirds of the world joining us. They are profound sanctions. Let's have a conversation in another month or so to see if they're working."

The majority of voters appear skeptical about the impact sanctions could have, with 61 percent in the poll saying they will be "ineffective."

The voters also suggested they think Biden is portrayed as weak on the international stage, particularly after last year's bloody withdrawal from Afghanistan. Fifty-nine percent of voters said they think Putin invaded Ukraine in part because he "sees weakness in President Biden," and 62 percent said Biden "signaled weakness and invited Russia's attack" in how he pulled out of Afghanistan.

"The voters see the invasion of Ukraine by Russia as directly tied to the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the perception that Joe Biden is a weak president," said pollster Mark Penn.

Dritan Nesho, co-director Harvard CAPS-Harris poll, added that "Voters believe the Biden administration can and should do more to protect Ukraine. They see the sanctions so far as too weak and ultimately ineffective, and a majority say the United States should defend Ukraine in case of a full Russian invasion - including a majority of Democrats. A stronger posture appears to be both the right policy and good politics for the administration."

The Harvard CAPS-Harris Poll survey of 2,026 registered voters was conducted from Feb. 23 to 24. It is a collaboration of the Center for American Political Studies at Harvard University and the Harris Poll.

The survey is an online sample drawn from the Harris Panel and weighted to reflect known demographics. As a representative online sample, it does not report a probability confidence interval.