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Partisan Differences on Perceptions of Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine and Transgender Athletes

The Spring 2022 SDSU Poll was conducted from May 2nd to May 15th, 2022 by The SDSU Poll, a research group housed in the School of American and Global Studies at South Dakota State University. This poll builds upon similar surveys conducted by The SDSU Poll in April 2021 and August 2021. In this survey, nearly 1,200 registered voters in South Dakota answered questions about current issues and about the upcoming Republican Party primary elections. The margin of error of this survey was +/- 3 %, on par with other state-wide polls.

As a part of the survey we also included questions on timely domestic and international issues. Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that started on February 24th has been widely condemned by the international community. In early March, the United Nations General Assembly overwhelmingly adopted a resolution that demanded Russia to stop the invasion. On March 16th, the United Nations’ International Court of Justice ordered Russia to cease the invasion. We asked South Dakotans about their perceptions of the conflict.

We first asked if they believed Russia was justified in invading Ukraine. Over 86% South Dakotans “disagree” or “strongly disagree” with that assertion. As with most policy questions, we see some partisan differences in the intensity of this belief, though not as much as with many domestic issues. Over 90% of Democrats answered that they “strongly disagree” with the statement compared to 63% of Republicans.

pie charts showing that Republicans are more likely to say Russia was justified in invading Ukraine than are Democrats, yet majorities of both believe it was unjustified

There have been some disturbing reports on how Russia has waged this war, and accusations of war crimes are mounting. Evidence has emerged of widespread abuse and killing of Ukraine citizens in the town of Bucha. Elsewhere, there are reports of Ukrainian women, men, and even children being raped by Russian troops. The International Criminal Court started an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity being committed by Russian troops. We asked South Dakotans about their perceptions of human rights violations perpetrated by the Russian troops in Ukraine.

We found that 71% South Dakotans “agree” or “strongly agree” that Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine. Over 9% disagreed and 10% were not sure. Again, we see some partisan differences in the intensity of this belief. Almost 78% of Democrats agree that Russia is committing war crimes, compared to 45% of Republicans.

pie charts showing an overwhelming majority of democrats and a sizable majority of republicans believe Russia is committing war crimes in Ukraine

As a response to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, countries around the world have imposed sanctions on Russia, and are supporting Ukraine through military and economic aid. On May 10th, the US House of Representatives approved a $40 billion aid package for Ukraine. President Biden stated multiple times that the sanctions imposed by the United States on Russia will impact Americans. For example, gas prices have already increased since the invasion. We wanted to see how supportive South Dakotans are of sanctions against Russia, even if their consequences are felt at home.

Almost 57% respondents indicated that they “agree” or “strongly agree” that the United States should impose tougher sanctions on Russia even if it led to higher prices at home. Just over 22% responded that they “disagree” or “strongly disagree,” with 21% in between. Again, we see differences based on political affiliation in the intensity of agreement. Over 81% of Democrats answered that they “agree” or “strongly agree,” compared to 45% of Republicans.

pie charts showing that a majority of democrats and a minority of republicans support increased sanctions on Russia

Overall, South Dakotans overwhelmingly believe that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was unjustified. A large majority also believes that Russian troops are committing war crimes, and a slight majority of South Dakotans supports further sanctions even if they would lead to higher prices at home.


In the main, Democrats are far more unified in their opposition to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Part of this is the simple fact that they are taking and following cues from a Democratic president. It is also plausible that some Republicans are taking cues from the former President who remains very popular in Republican circles. Trump openly talks about his close relationship with President Putin. He also described Putin’s move to formally recognize the two separatist republics in eastern Ukraine and the movement of Russian troops into these regions as “smart,” “savvy,” and “genius.”


We now turn to the issue of transgender athletes, which has recently attracted nationwide attention and controversy. The success of the University of Pennsylvania’s transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in the NCAA Division I national championship this year put this issue at the center of public debate.

In February, Governor Noem signed a bill that prohibited transgender girls and college-age women from competing in school sports that match their gender identity. Similar bills have been recently passed in other Republican states. It was reported that conservative politicians across the country might be using this policy issue to build momentum prior to the November midterm elections.

We asked South Dakotans about their opinions on transgender athletes. We found that 66% answered that transgender athletes “should only be allowed to play on sports teams that match their birth gender,” while 17% believed that they “should be able to play on sports teams that match their current gender identity,” and 16% were not sure.

We again saw significant differences along partisan lines, with a plurality of Democrats supporting transgender athletes playing with their identified gender, and Republicans in the state overwhelmingly opposed. A full 49% of Democrats are in favor of athletes playing on teams that much their current gender identity, compared to a scant 1% of Republicans. Only 23% of Democrats believe that transgender athletes should play on sports teams that match their birth gender, compared to 95% of Republicans.

pie charts showing nearly all republicans oppose transgendered athletes playing on the team of their gender identity, whereas about half of democrats support it

It is clear that the issue of transgender athletes has been politicized in South Dakota, similar to issues like COVID-19 vaccination, and we see significant differences between parties. Both Democrats and Republicans seem to be taking cues from their political parties, although Democrats seemingly to a lesser extent.


Contributors: Filip Viskupič PhD and David Wiltse PhD