Older Americans Most Negative About Iraq War
The latest Gallup survey on attitudes toward the Iraq War found that, despite popular conception that anti-war feelings are strongest among the young, that the over-50 and, especially, over-70 cohort was much more negative.
The finding that party identification mattered most, with 82 percent of Democrats answering “Yes” to the question, “Did the United States make a mistake in sending troops to Iraq?” compared to only 25 percent of Republicans and 59 percent of Independents is not particularly surprising, except perhaps in the size of the divide. The gender gap on this issue is not nearly that large, with 61 percent of women and 53 percent of men in the affirmative column.
The age gap is not as strong as the partisan one but much more unexpected:
A twelve point gap between those above and below the seemingly random age of 50 is interesting. Broken down by life decade, though, the effects are much more meaningful:
Since there are no “why” questions included in the survey, explanation is left to conjecture. Frank Newport‘s guess, though, is the one that immediately came to my mind, so I find it incredibly insightful:
A number of hypotheses could be advanced to explain this age effect, some based on the life experiences of specific age cohorts. Americans who are now in their 50s and early 60s were most likely to have been affected by the Vietnam War, and those who are now in their 70s and 80s were most likely to have been affected by World War II and the Korean War.
I read three or four papers about cohort effects fourteen or fifteen years ago, making me an “expert” by pundit standards but with “just enough knowledge to be dangerous” by political scientist metrics. It stands to reason, however, that the Vietnam generation would be quick to turn against a war, especially an internecine guerrilla campaign in Asia. Further, the WWII cohort is likely to look askance at a conflict that doesn’t measure up to the mythos of the Good War fought by their Greatest Generation.
It’s worth remembering, too, that people over 50 are likely to have children and those over 70 to have grandchildren old enough to fight. Even if their own kids and grandkids didn’t volunteer, they’re likely to see their kids and grandkids in the faces of our soldiers.
By contrast, the under-50 crowd came to adulthood after Vietnam and, more importantly, after the end of the military draft. No man under 50 was ever subject to involuntary service in more than abstract theory. The reason so many college age students were among the war protestors in the 1960s was not that they were so much more idealistic than their 2000s counterparts but because they had skin in the game.
As an aside, this survey had the lowest “Don’t know” responses I can recall. With the exception of the 80+ age cohort in a couple of the breakdowns, the number was 2 percent or under across the board. If nothing else, this is an issue where people have strong views.
UPDATE: Dave Schuler points out that I missed a rather obvious factor: The fact that party ID also corresponds to age cohort. (Indeed, those three or four papers that I read in grad were were about the effects on generational experience on voting behavior. D’oh!) He cites a 2004 Pew study which found, “Older Americans are more Democratic than Republican in their party affiliation, while younger people are about equally divided between the parties. And as has long been true, younger people also are substantially less likely to identify with any political party.” They illustrate this with a rather hard-to-see chart: