Poll: Broad Opposition to War Grows

The American Prospect

Republican candidates are beating the war drums just as support for invading Iraq is dissipating. Whereas a Gallup Poll last November revealed 74 percent in favor of a ground invasion of Iraq and 20 percent opposed, this August the percentage of those in favor plummeted to 53, with 41 percent opposed — roughly the same margin that existed before September 11.

Moreover, the profile of those who favor war versus those who oppose it increasingly resembles the electoral breakdown of the mid-1990s. The opponents are disproportionately women, minorities, senior citizens, the college-educated and residents of the Northeast, Midwest and Far West. The administration’s core supporters are rural, white, male, southern Republicans without a college diploma.

That’s not a good recipe for building a national consensus and may not help the Republicans in November. Here, based on materials specially provided by polling organizations, is a rundown of who is opposing and who is supporting the administration’s rush to war in Iraq.


Women have historically been less supportive than men of using war as a means of resolving international conflicts. More women than men wanted to pull out of the Korean and Vietnam wars, and, in January 1991, women were far less supportive than men of going to war in the Persian Gulf.

After September 11, according to Washington Post polls, an overwhelming majority of both men and women backed a military response to the attacks, but only 55 percent of women, compared with 76 percent of men backed a military response “if 1,000 American troops would be killed.”

In this August’s Gallup Poll, women backed the use of ground troops against Iraq by only 48 percent to 45 percent, while men were in favor by 57 percent to 37 percent. Women’s opposition stems not only from a fear of casualties but also from dissatisfaction with the administration’s unilateral strategy.

In the Gallup Poll, women placed more importance than men on whether “at least some Western allies” support the administration’s action. Only 12 percent thought that the United States should send troops even without the backing of any allies.


In the August Gallup Poll, minorities opposed an invasion — blacks by 53 percent to 43 percent and other nonwhites by 48 percent to 45 percent — while whites backed going to war by 57 percent to 37 percent.

Minorities have been disproportionately opposed to war during the last four decades, regardless of whether Democrats or Republicans were in office, but their opposition hasn’t stemmed primarily from a fear of casualties.

In a Pew Research Center poll from January 2002, the margin of difference between white and black support for taking military action against Iraq did not change when the poll raised the possibility of “thousands of casualties,” whereas the margin difference between men and women doubled.

Minorities appear to assign less urgency to military intervention, whether in Kosovo in 1999 or in Iraq this year. It may be skepticism about whether countries such as Serbia and Iraq really threaten the United States. Polls show blacks more doubtful than whites about links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.

Minorities’ views of war may be shaped not only by a distrust of Bush administration priorities but by a broader perception that war — and military spending — are a diversion from domestic social concerns. In a pre- September 11 Washington Post poll on military spending, whites approved of the way the Bush administration was handling defense and the military budget by 54 percent to 31 percent, while blacks disapproved by 59 percent to 34 percent.

Minorities are also more supportive of the United Nations and wary of unilateral American action. In a poll conducted by the Program on International Policy Attitudes, 43 percent of minorities “strongly agreed” that the United States should cooperate with the United Nations, compared with 31.6 percent of whites.

Senior citizens.

Two other groups that have not historically been antiwar have joined the opposition to an invasion of Iraq. Senior citizens were not disproportionately against intervention in Kosovo or in Afghanistan, but according to August’s Gallup Poll, those over 65 years of age oppose sending ground troops to Iraq by 49 percent to 38 percent. That may reflect skepticism among senior citizens about this administration’s foreign policy.

In a pre-September 11 Washington Post poll, senior citizens (age 61 and over) disapproved by 52 percent to 40 percent of the Bush administration’s handling of foreign affairs, while middle-aged respondents (age 45 to 60) approved by 57 percent to 38 percent.

Senior citizens may also be more skeptical about administration arguments that Saddam Hussein constitutes a threat to American interests. In this August’s Gallup Poll, only 34 percent of senior citizens (in contrast with 47 percent overall) believed that Saddam Hussein would attack the United States with nuclear weapons.

College graduates.

College graduates have sometimes been the most supportive of going to war. In a November 2001 Washington Post poll, 73 percent of college graduates, compared with 71 percent of all respondents, favored sending a “significant number of ground troops into Afghanistan.”

And in a Gallup Poll in June, they favored invasion by 53 percent to 44 percent. But in August, as the Bush administration’s intentions became clearer, they opposed it by 47 percent to 44 percent.

One factor is that college graduates have been more inclined than other groups to favor multilateral approaches to foreign policy. In a June 1999 Washington Post poll, college graduates backed a NATO peacekeeping force in Kosovo by 54 percent to 41 percent, while overall it was opposed by 48 percent to 46 percent.

Like senior citizens, they are also disproportionately skeptical of administration claims that Saddam Hussein might eventually use nuclear weapons against the United States.


As might be expected, self-identified Democrats, who favored invasion by 55 percent to 39 percent in July’s Gallup Poll, now oppose it by 52 percent to 44 percent. That probably reflects the decline in George W. Bush’s popularity and a partisan reaction to the prospect of war.

But the growing skepticism about invasion can’t be reduced to partisanship. Between the Gallup Polls conducted in June and August, the backing for invasion among Republicans declined by 11 percent and among independents by 4 percent.

Most striking, perhaps, self-identified moderates went from supporting the war at 60 percent to 33 percent in June to a tepid 49 percent to 45 percent support in August. That suggests that Bush is losing both the left and the center of the electorate.

Whites, males, Republicans and those who have not graduated from or never attended college. These groups generally support an invasion of Iraq. In the Gallup Poll, those with only a high-school education favored war by 60 percent to 34 percent; Republicans, meanwhile, backed going to war by 67 percent to 26 percent.

In addition, southerners favored an invasion by 62 percent to 34 percent, compared with 47 percent to 44 percent for midwesterners. Rural residents, for their part, favored going to war by 58 percent to 35 percent. If you put these different proportions together, you get a high-school-educated white male from the rural or small-town South. Overall, this group strongly supports the U.S. military and its actions, and is skeptical toward, or even opposed to, the United Nations and multilateral foreign-policy initiatives.

Readers of Walter Russell Mead’s Special Providence: American Foreign Policy and How It Changed the World will recognize this prototype in his portrayal of the “Jacksonian” school of American foreign policy.

It’s not really a school, and it’s not really a product of Andrew Jackson, but it is an important current in American foreign policy, typified by Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.). The views of these primarily southern Jacksonians could be roughly contrasted with the more internationalist outlook one finds among college graduates and among citizens in the Northeast and Far West, as with the more conventionally isolationist tendencies of many midwesterners.

In most polls, southerners and those without a college degree register the greatest support for military action. (White southern support, one assumes, must even be higher.)

In the Washington Post’s pre-9-11 poll, southerners approved of Bush’s defense and military policies by 58 percent to 26 percent, compared with 53 percent to 34 percent overall.

Meanwhile, those without a college degree approved of the president’s policies by 56 percent to 35 percent, compared with 51 percent to 43 percent for college graduates. At the same time, these two groups are most leery of multilateral action. Southerners and those without a college degree were least supportive of the United States joining NATO peacekeepers in Kosovo. In the June 1999 Washington Post poll, only 42 percent without a college education favored sending a NATO peacekeeping force; 54 percent of college graduates who responded said they favored such action. These two groups are the most supportive of unilateralism.

In August’s Gallup Poll, 24 percent of southerners (compared with 15 percent of midwesterners) said, “The United States should send troops even if none of our Western allies supports that action.”

This group of Americans backed Bush enthusiastically in the 2000 election and will loudly support his plan to go to war against Iraq. Indeed, Vice President Dick Cheney kicked off the administration’s attempt to win support for a unilateral invasion at a speech in Nashville, Tenn., a few dozen miles from Jackson’s Hermitage, before local members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars.

But these supporters are hardly representative of the country or of the direction in which the country is moving. As the debate over war on Iraq goes forward, Bush will need to find allies among those groups that have increasingly turned away from him.

Meanwhile, Democrats, who have privately complained about the administration’s plans for war but have remained silent publicly for fear of alienating voters, should take heart from the growing opposition. If the Democrats and Republicans who oppose the administration’s strategy for a preemptive unilateral strike against Iraq want to make their case, they are going to find an increasingly receptive public.

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