Young People and the War in Iraq
By JANET ELDER
April 17, 2007 New York Times
The younger generation is opposed to the war in Iraq, right? Wrong. Actually, they’re divided on the war, far more so than their grandparents, according to a New York Times/CBS News Poll in March. Seems younger people are more supportive of the war and the president than any other age group.
Forty-eight percent of Americans 18 to 29 years old said the United States did the right thing in taking military action against Iraq, while 45 percent said the United States should have stayed out. That is in sharp contrast to the opinions of those 65 and older, who have lived through many other wars. Twenty eight percent of that age group said the United States did the right thing, while 67 percent said the United States should have stayed out.
This is nothing new, said John Mueller, author of “War, Presidents and Public Opinion,” and a professor of political science at Ohio State University. “This is a pattern that is identical to what we saw in Korea and Vietnam, younger people are more likely to support what the president is doing,” he said.
A review of the March poll suggests Mr. Mueller has a point. Overall, 34 percent of Americans said they approved of the way the president was handling his job, and 58 percent disapproved. But younger Americans were more approving than older Americans. Forty percent of 18-29 year olds said Mr. Bush was doing a good job, while 56 percent said he was not. While 29 percent of people 65 and older said they approved of the way Mr. Bush was handling his job as president, 62 percent said they did not.
The nationwide telephone poll was conducted March 7-11 with 1,362 adults and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus three percentage points.
A look back at the Vietnam years showed a similar divide between young and old. Older Americans were defined as 50 and older, but the comparison is still apt. In October 1968, when Hubert Humphrey, Richard Nixon and George Wallace were running for president, a Gallup poll found that about half, 52 percent, of people under the age of 30 supported the war in Vietnam. But among those 50 and older, 26 percent supported the war.
Some of the respondents to the March poll were called back to talk about the differences between the young and the not so young. “Experience,” “the draft,” “other wars,” were mentioned by respondents on both sides of the generational divide.
Mildred Jenkins, 68, a retired telephone operator from Somerville Tennessee, said: “We’ve experienced more than the younger people. Older people are wiser. We’ve seen war and we know.” Ms. Jenkins said she usually votes Republican but “may go Democratic this time.”
More than one person who lived through the Vietnam war mentioned the draft and the absence of one for this war. “It’s because of life experience,” said Jimmie Powell, 73, a bartender and factory worker from El Reno, Oklahoma. “I don’t think younger people really know a whole lot about anything. They don’t care because there is no draft. If there were a draft, we’d finally have the revolution we need.”
Mr. Powell describes himself as a political independent.
Some of the younger respondents said they were more aggressive than their elders by virtue of age.
“I think old people tend to want to solve things more diplomatically than younger, more gung ho types,” said Mary Jackson, 28, a homemaker from Brewton, Alabama. “Younger people are more combative.”
Younger people are also more optimistic. Forty-nine percent of them said the United States was either very likely or somewhat likely to succeed in Iraq, while only 34 percent of older people said the same thing.
Janet Elder is The Times’s editor of news surveys and election analysis.