Sochi Olympics doesn't help Americans' view of Russia sinking

By Susan Heavey, Reuters

Posted at Feb 14 2014 10:06 AM | Updated as of Feb 14 2014 06:06 PM

WASHINGTON - Americans' view of Russia was "the worst in years" as it prepared to host the Olympic Games, a poll released on Thursday showed.

A Gallup survey taken at the start of the Winter Games in Sochi last week found that nearly two-thirds of people in the United States hold an "unfavorable" view of Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin.

Despite worries about possible attacks or protests over Russia's anti-gay policies, the Olympic competition has gone smoothly so far, save for some grumbling about snow conditions amid a warm spell and concerns about bad hotels and stray dogs.

Still, 60 percent of the 1,018 U.S. adults polled said they viewed Russia unfavorably, compared with 34 percent who said they had a "favorable" opinion. A similar number had an "unfavorable" view of Putin, according to the survey, conducted between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9 just as the Games began.

That's "the highest negative rating in the four times Gallup has asked about him since he became president for the first time in 1999," wrote Art Swift, Gallup's managing editor.

By comparison, about 44 percent of Americans had an unfavorable opinion of Russia in 2012, according to Gallup data.

Tensions have flared between the two world powers over Russia's ties to Syria and its granting of temporary asylum to former American spy contractor Edward Snowden, among other issues. More recently, Putin faced an outcry abroad over a law banning the spread of "gay propaganda" among minors.

"While American sentiments have been mostly favorable over the past 20 years, it is obvious that Americans will react strongly at moments when Russia clashes with the U.S.," Swift said.

Americans had a better opinion of Putin during his first term in office, Swift said.

Gallup's telephone survey had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.