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November 17, 2005The Gallup Poll has compared data it collected during the wars in Korea, Vietnam, and Iraq in relation to political party affiliation, and the results seem surprising. Gallup has asked Americans during each war whether it was a mistake to send US forces. According to Gallup’s Jeffrey M. Jones, the data show that the popular notion that Republicans are “more inclined” to support war than Democrats is not necessarily true—at least it wasn’t in the 1950s.

Jones says that the telling factor is the party affiliation of the sitting President and whether he (or she) supports the war. Gallup’s data on the Korean War supports that conclusion. Harry Truman was leading the country and, after initial widespread support for the war, there appeared a “partisan divide” with Republicans coming down on the anti-war side. In 1951, 55 percent of Republicans versus 43 percent of Democrats thought US involvement was a mistake. By 1952, the divide had grown.

Jones says a possible explanation for the Democratic support for the Korean War is party composition of the time. The Democratic Party of the 1950s and 1960s included conservative Southerners. Since then, the Republican Party has gained many of those same Southern conservatives and has become more “monolithically conservative” overall than it was in the 1950s and 1960s, says Jones. 

The Vietnam War represents an anomaly because a majority of members of both parties held negative views of US involvement.

 

Data on the current war shows a return to partisan divide—much more stark than for the Korean War. Since August, a majority of Americans has fairly consistently said the US made a mistake in sending troops to Iraq. The party split is dramatic: 81 percent of Democrats call it a mistake, while 78 percent of Republicans say it is not.

—Suzann Chapman