What I mean in the headline is, is it their animosity towards Russia after the election that’s mainly driving this or is it more of a tribal “whatever Trump thinks, I think the opposite” reaction? The president is America’s most famous NATO skeptic, after all. Or he was, until about a month ago.
The two options aren’t mutually exclusive. It could be that Dems are pro-NATO for political reasons, because Trump is (usually) against it, and for policy reasons, because Moscow’s meddling during the campaign gave them new reason to fear and loathe Russia’s international influence. Either way, that’s … some spike.
It’s fascinating that there’s no symmetrical partisan effect. Normally when Democratic support for something soars, Republican opposition sinks. Instead GOP views of NATO are back to where they were circa 2009, having actually risen over the last few years after declining during Obama’s second term. I don’t understand why Republican support cratered in 2013, frankly: My first guess was that it was a reaction to Obama’s support for Ukraine in its standoff with Russia and the prospect of American troops having to defend eastern Europe (never mind that Ukraine isn’t a member of NATO), but Ukraine’s war with Russia didn’t get hot until the following year. But there’s partisan asymmetry there, too. You would think, if Democrats’ hostility to Russia were based on policy rather than partisan concerns, Obama’s support for Kiev and Putin’s humiliation of the U.S. in Syria would have sent Democratic support for NATO trending upward in 2013-14. Nope. It’s very much a 2017 thing, which means it’s a backlash to the election or to Trump’s chumminess with Russia or both. A perfect reason to commit the U.S. military to fighting Russia in eastern Europe if need be!
Follow the link and you’ll see that, thanks to the Democratic boost, overall U.S. support for NATO is now higher than it was in 2009. The same is true for Poland, which is no surprise since they’d bear the brunt of any Russian western offensive. Among the countries of western Europe, though, while the numbers remain strong by and large, the trends are headed downward. In Germany, the share who view NATO favorably has dipped six points; in France and Spain the decline has been steeper, 11 points in each case. Germany is the most interesting case of the three, and not just because it’s the most powerful country in Europe. Ask Germans if they like NATO and they split 67/25. Ask them if they’d be willing to fulfill their own obligations to NATO if a member country is attacked by Russia and, well…
Germans love the idea of the U.S. being on the hook to back them up in case Putin comes knocking but really don’t love the idea of being on the hook themselves to back Poland up if Putin comes calling in Warsaw. You can rationalize the British and Spanish numbers on grounds that they’re located in far western Europe, making a conflict in eastern Europe less immediately threatening to them and therefore not directly in their national interest. But what’s Germany’s excuse?