A Majority of Americans Think Russia is More Dangerous Now than During Cold War
In 2012, when then-presidential candidate Mitt Romney suggested that Russia was one of the U.S.’s top geopolitical adversary, most scoffed at the idea, including then-president Barack Obama who noted that the Cold War had been over for more than two decades. Surely, the U.S. has moved past the era of diving under our desks and worrying about the Doomsday Clock. But a lot can change in five short years.
According to data collected by Endgame through a recent survey, the majority of Americans think that Russia is more dangerous now than
it was during the Cold War. On top of that, most Americans are not confident in the U.S. government to protect them from the cyber attacks that powers like Russia could launch.
By polling over 2,000 Americans over the age of 18, Endgame found that the majority of the country views Russia as our greatest cyber threat, is concerned about Russia’s influence in US elections and the White House, understands the material damage that a foreign power could accomplish through a cyber attack, and does not believe the U.S.
government is adequately equipped to protect its citizens against foreign cyber attacks.
Specifically, 51% of Americans think Russia is more dangerous now than it was during the Cold War, 58% have little to no faith in the government to defend against foreign cyber attacks, and 53% of Americans are concerned or very concerned about Russian influence in the White House.
Despite the generally accepted supremacy of the U.S. military and the funds devoted to it—American defense spending accounts
for roughly about 54% of the discretionary budget and comprises as much as 37% of total international military expenditures—it appears that Americans are aware of the very real cyber threats the country is facing on a daily basis.
Whether or not these findings are a reflection of some Americans’ general sentiment of a nation in danger and distress is impossible to know. Regardless, our findings indicate that, in the cyber realm at least, Americans hold serious concerns about their safety in a rapidly evolving digital battlefield.
THE RUSSIAN THREAT
Of those surveyed, 51% believe that Russia is more dangerous now that it was during the Cold War. Though it might seem that these
findings could have been skewed by younger Americans will less perspective on the Cold War (having not lived through it as clearly), our data indicates that young Americans were actually the slimmest majority to say yes, and the margin between “yes” and “no” increased in step with the range increases.
Our survey also found that a plurality of Americans view Russia at the biggest cyber threat to the US, followed by a near-tie between North Korea and a US insider threat; China was a nearby fourth. This indicates that not only do Americans view Russia as a dangerous threat as compared to its past history, but also as compared to other current global adversaries.
For their parts, North Korea has been increasing its digital arsenal (and is under inquiry for a $81 million cyberheist), while American figures such as Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden may have raised concerns over US insider cybersecurity threats for their association with the information-sharing organization WikiLeaks.
Not only are Americans fearful of a foreign cyber attack, but our findings indicate that the vast majority of Americans recognize the potential real-world damage such attacks could inflict. Aside from stealing confidential information or sums of money, 90% of Americans believe that a foreign government like Russia could accomplish as least one of any number of kinetic outcomes.
Of the options polled, more than 70% of Americans believe that a cyber attack could both “take down the power grid and cause a blackout” and “shut down financial trading
systems”, both of which have been reported in the past (power grid; trading system) and may have therefore been top of mind. These were the only two scenarios that achieved a majority, however, “44%: motivate a physical war”, “41%: control a nuclear power plant”, and “37%: elect a preferred candidate to office” (more on this in a moment) were all believed by more than 35% of respondents. Only 9% of respondent do not think a cyber attack could accomplish any of these things.
RUSSIA AND THE ELECTION
When it comes to electoral politics, Americans were more divided about Russia’s possible influence in the campaign and election.
Our survey found a near dead-even split on the question of whether Americans think that Russia “hacked the 2016 election.” By leaving this question purposefully vague, we wanted to test the general temperature of the country, and in doing so found that the U.S. is left without a majority opinion. Nearly 1 in 4 Americans are simply unsure, while the rest of the respondents were split at 37% each for “yes” and “no”. This may very likely change as more news of Russia’s potential influence in the 2016 presidential election comes to light through the ongoing FBI investigation.
Even though Americans remain uncertain on Russia’s effect on this past election cycle, our findings indicate that the majority of Americans have seen enough to be worried about the country’s electoral future. Our survey found that 54% of Americans are “concerned” or “very concerned” about Russia’s potential influence in US elections and the White House, with the majority of that group feeling “very concerned”. Whereas uncertainty still clouds the effects on the recent election, most Americans feel that the developments since the election are cause for concern.
As Americans continue to process the election and understand the danger that Russia poses as a geopolitical adversary and serious cyber threat, one thing stands clear:
Americans do not feel protected.
Despite the usually unquestionable power of the U.S. government in the global scene, the majority of Americans have little to no faith in the government to defend against foreign cyber attacks.
More than 40% of survey respondents said they felt “mostly confident” in the government’s cyber defense capabilities, while another 17% said they had no faith in the government at all. Only 22% felt any level of confidence, and only 3.75% of that 22% said they felt “very confident” in the U.S.’s abilities. Couple this with our previous findings that 90% of Americans believe that a foreign government like Russia could accomplish as least one of any number of kinetic outcomes, and you come to a stark realization: