Which American Groups Back the War?
by Steve Sailer
UPI, March 20, 2003
March 20, 2003 (UPI) -- Now that war has started, support by the American public for an invasion of Iraq can be expected to rise among all groups. But what segments of the public have been the strongest and most consistently supportive of a pre-emptive attack?
Just as Democrats and liberals were more hawkish in support of President Bill Clinton's attack on Serbian-led Yugoslavia in 1999, the core of President George W. Bush's support on Iraq are Republicans and conservatives who voted for him in 2000.
Pollsters have found, of course, that the level of backing war gets depends on the wording of the question. For many months, around 60 percent of the public has favored some kind of ground action, but that number falls if the pollster asks if America should fight even without a coalition. Surveys never quite agree, but there's consensus on which demographic groups are most hawkish and which are most dovish.
Overall, those sectors of the public that supported Bush in 2000 have been most eager for war today. White evangelical Protestants and rural citizens, for example, are big Bush advocates today, as they were in 2000.
Men are more hawkish than women, although the gender gap is not terribly large, except in California, where according to a March L.A. Times Poll, it's running at a substantial 29 points. (Overall, doves are strongest in the West.)
According to a Pew poll, women tend to worry more about what could go wrong: casualties, terrorist attacks, and the like. Not surprisingly, women have been more concerned about winning international approval than men are, who tend to be more comfortable with a go-it-alone approach.
Differences today are somewhat more restrained than during that highly divisive 2000 election. War has strong support among Republicans, but not quite as much as the GOP nominee commanded in 2000. Likewise, Democrats mostly oppose an invasion, but not as much as they opposed Bush back then. Blacks are mostly anti-war, but not by anything close to the ten to one ratio they were anti-Bush.
The differences between now and 2000 are more interesting. Age didn't play much of a role in the presidential election, with each cohort fairly evenly split. Today, the young are more gung-ho than the old. Perhaps this reflects their different experiences with the United States at war. The "greatest generation" endured the long and painful struggles during World War II, Korea, and Vietnam. The optimism of the young may stem from their memories of quick, almost painless victories in Kosovo, Desert Storm, and Panama.
Latinos gave Bush only about 35 percent of their vote in 2000, but they may be more favorably disposed toward his war. Unfortunately, the polls disagree. Surveys by Gallup and Pew found Hispanics as warlike as whites, but another sample by Pew and an LA Times Poll of Californians found them less fired up. Accurately polling Latinos can be difficult due to language and cultural differences.
When given a chance to send a message on Iraq by voting for Republican senatorial candidates in last fall's election, Hispanics mostly passed it up. According to James G. Gimpel, a professor of government at the University of Maryland, Hispanic turnout was light and Latinos voted two to one for Democrats for the Senate.
Another group that Republicans would like to win over are Jews. Unlike Hispanics, they tend to take a deep interest in Middle Eastern affairs. In 2000, Bush earned only 19 percent of their ballots, reflecting a Jewish commitment to the Democratic Party stretching back generations. Jews makes up only about 2 percent of the population and 4 percent of the voters, but a larger fraction of senators (11 of 100) and representatives (26 of 435). Only three of these 37 Jewish members of Congress are Republicans.
The GOP has been hoping that the administration's hard line in the Middle East would finally attract Jewish support.
A poll by the American Jewish Committee at the beginning of January found that 59 percent of Jews supported an Iraq attack -- about the same level as other polls found for the population at large. Jewish support for this particular Bush policy, though, didn't seem to do the GOP much good with Jews in last November's election. The AJC survey's respondents still voted 61-22 for Democrats for Congress. Exit poll data suggests similar results: Republicans did better than the miserable results of 2000, but hardly what they were hoping.
The problem may lie in Jewish aversion to the conservative Protestants who make up much of the base of the GOP. Although Christian fundamentalists have been avid supporters of Israel, in the AJC survey, 39 percent of the Jews polled said that "most" or "many" members of the "Religious Right" were anti-Semitic. In contrast, only 20 percent of Jewish respondents labeled as anti-Semitic "most" or "many" blacks.
In terms of education level, in 2000 there was "U" shaped support for Al Gore, with the Democrat doing best among high school dropouts and people with postgraduate educations. Today, though, there is a steady gradient, with the least support for the war among the best educated and the most among the least schooled.
One reason for this was suggested by the Pew analysts: "In the U.S., college graduates are much more supportive of maintaining close ties with Western Europe compared with those with no more than a high school education (77 percent vs. 55 percent)."
It can be difficult to determine exactly how much Americans know or care about the specifics of the Iraq issue. In the last Pew survey, a reassuring 62 percent claimed they "followed very closely" the debate over the Iraq war, which was nine points higher than the second most closely followed issue: 53 percent were very interested in high gasoline prices.
The core of Bush's support appears to be those who believe that Saddam Hussein was involved with the World Trade Center atrocity. In the recent CBS/New York Times survey, 45 percent agreed that Hussein was "personally involved in the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks" and only 40 percent disagreed.
A February Pew Foundation poll found an even greater 57-27 split in favor of the idea that "Saddam helped 9-11 attacks." Two thirds of those supporting the war thought he was involved.
A Knight-Ridder poll asked, "How many of the Sept. 11 hijackers were Iraqi citizens?" Only 17 percent gave the right answer: none.
Apparently, no poll has yet tried to find out what percentage of Americans can tell Iraq from Iran. "Do you support war on Iraq in part as revenge for the Ayatollah Khomeini taking our embassy hostage in Tehran in 1979?" might be an illuminating question to ask.