Sunday, July 30, 2006

Past Public Opinion

When I was working on the "Myths and Realities" paper, one of the most fun things I did was get a bunch of data from old Gallup Polls. Gallup started polling the American public every couple of weeks in the mid-1930s. It is fascinating to play around with these data both because it is interesting to see the distribution of opinions throughout time and because it is fascinating to see what questions were worth asking. It is striking to observe how some fights now seem ridiculous (should women be allowed to serve on juries; should we sterilize the insane), while others continue unabated (how free should the press be; how big government debt should be; should the government allow "mercy killings").

One repeating issue is war. A new analysis of Gallup Poll data indicates that Americans' attitudes toward the Iraq War today parallel Americans' attitudes toward Vietnam in 1970. I wasn't alive in 1970, so I lack much of the relevant cultural knowledge to put this into context, but I thought it was interesting regardless:
The most recent Gallup poll this month found that 52% of adult Americans want to see all U.S. troops out of Iraq within a year, with 19% advocating immediate withdrawal. In the summer of 1970, Gallup found that 48% wanted a pullout within a year, with 23% embracing the "immediate" option. Just 7% want to send more troops now, vs. 10% then.

At present, 56% call the decision to invade Iraq a "mistake," with 41% disagreeing. Again this echoes the view of the Vietnam war in 1970, when that exact same number, 56%, in May 1970 called it a mistake in a Gallup poll.

While the U.S. involvement in the Korean war is often labeled unpopular, the highest number calling it a mistake in a Gallup poll was 51% in early 1952. That number actually declined to 43% by the end of that year.

And, in case it is not obvious, support for the Iraq War pales in comparison to support for WWII (data from private polls conducted for FDR, not from Gallup):

Approval for President Roosevelt's conduct of the war continued at around 70% where it had been for years. The number of people who said they had a clear idea of what the war was about was at about the same level and appears to have been rising. Support for a negotiated peace with Hitler remained around the anemic levels it had been for years -- at around 15%.

(h/t Glenn Greenwald via C&L)

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