As President Joe Biden heads to Belgium for a NATO summit to discuss ongoing deterrence and defense efforts in response to Russia’s unprovoked attack on Ukraine, more than half of Utahns disapprove of how he has handled the international crisis.

At the same time, a new Deseret News/Hinckley Institute of Politics poll shows Biden has a higher approval rating on his performance regarding the war than his overall performance as president, which continues to languish in the Beehive State.

The survey found 55% of Utah voters disapprove of Biden’s job performance on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, while 36% approve. The poll also found sharp division along party lines, with Democrats overwhelmingly supporting the president and Republicans decidedly not.

Only 31% of Utahns approve of Biden’s job performance overall, a slight uptick from last month when he was at 29% just before his first State of the Union address. The poll found 63% of residents disapprove of the job he is doing.

“I imagine that for many people, those who are so-called in the anti-Biden, pro-Trump camp, perhaps it’s difficult to differentiate between Biden’s overall presidency and Biden’s handling of this, and maybe the gas prices play a role in that,” said Amos Guiora, a professor at the University of Utah’s S.J. Quinney College of Law.

“I would think that even those who are not in the Biden camp, whether they support other Democrats or support Trump or other Republicans candidates, I don’t think anybody wants to see dead American soldiers.”

Jason Perry, director of the University of Utah’s Hinckley Institute of Politics, said Utahns’ concerns about rising inflation and the complicated geopolitical atmosphere are clearly seen in his steady approval rating in the low 30s.

“Heading into election season, that will be a difficult obstacle for Democrats to overcome as they attempt to retain their slim majorities in the House and Senate,” he said.

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Biden will be in Brussels on Thursday for a NATO summit and join a European Council meeting as world leaders seek to align their responses to Russia’s brutal assault on Ukraine. The president is scheduled to travel to Poland, where millions of Ukrainian refugees have fled to escape Russian bombs, on Friday.

The president’s policies since the Russian invasion of Ukraine began have centered on sanctioning Russia, including banning oil imports, bolstering NATO’s defenses and providing security assistance to Ukraine. 

Guiora, an expert on international relations, described Biden’s response to the invasion as “measured.”

“I think he’s trying to thread a very, very complicated needle with respect to Putin, also with respect to the Europeans, with respect to the Chinese and also with an eye to domestic politics,” he said.

“He, I think, will understand that symbols are important, hence the trip to Europe and particularly to Poland,” Guiora said. “But I’m also sure that he understands that as important as symbols are, there’s a limit to symbolism.”

The challenge Biden faces, he said, is whether to approve a no-fly zone over Ukraine.

“That strikes me, as far as one can ascertain, as the most direct engagement with Russia that he would be willing to undertake,” Guiro said.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenksyy has pleaded with Biden and Congress for a humanitarian no-fly zone over his country. Members of Utah’s all-Republican congressional delegation oppose that, though they have called for tougher sanctions on Russia and more weapons for Ukraine, including the Polish fighter jets Biden has refused to send.

Utahns give Biden much lower marks for the way he is handling the Ukraine situation than Americans generally, according to national polls, which show public opinion is more evenly divided.

Party affiliation played a large role in the Deseret News/Hinckley Institute poll.

The survey shows only 21% of Republicans approve of how Biden is handling the Russian attack, compared to 77% of Democrats and 42% of unaffiliated voters.

The president’s overall job approval among Republicans is 17%, among Democrats 82%, and among independents 34%, according to the poll.

Dan Jones & Associated conducted the poll of 804 registered Utah voters March 9-21. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.45 percentage points.