September 9, 1997

Post Cold War Attitudes Toward the Use of Force

BY Andrew Kohut

Introduction

By the summer of 1941, the Germans had defeated the French, driven the British army into the sea and were attempting to bomb London into submission.   The Gallup Poll took the extraordinary effort of conducting a poll in each of the then 48 states asking: “If you were asked to vote today on the question of the United States entering the war against Germany and Italy, how would you vote — to go into the war or to stay out of the war?”  The war option was rejected in every state of hte union.   The most support for engagement was found in Florida and Arizona where the “going in” sentiment was as high as 35% and 33%, respectively.  In the more isolationist upper Midwestern states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa as few as 15% favored war.

Clearly, America has a long history of wariness regarding the use of force.  Despite conventional wisdom that it is more difficult today to obtain public support for committing troops to the field, our historical studies of opinion polling data show little change in the dynamics of public opinion over a very long time.  However, changing public priorities and conceptions of the national interest in the post=Cold War era have created new considerations for policy makers attempting to galvanize support for military involvements.