Checking Out Sentiment Around the Home Front

Given all the attention to divisions between Americans on the war in Iraq, one can lose sight of the mixed feelings many individuals have. In a CBS News survey conducted in the last days of March, 73 percent of respondents said they’re “proud of what the U.S. is doing in Iraq.” That’s in line with a Gallup poll (fielded a few days earlier) that found 61 percent feeling proud. But 71 percent of Gallup’s respondents also said the war makes them “sad.” Just 26 percent described themselves as “afraid,” but 49 percent said they’re “worried.” These motley emotions haven’t left people confused about policy, though. In Gallup polling at the end of March, 81 percent said they have “a clear idea of what this war is all about.” In an interesting comparison, the Polling Report Web site noted that this is higher than the percentage of Americans saying the same of World War II in a November 1942 survey (73 percent).

The Pentagon should sell corporate sponsorships for its briefings on the war. The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found 40 percent of Americans have “a great deal of confidence” the military is giving the public “an accurate picture of how the war is going.” Another 44 percent voiced “a fair amount of confidence.” Respondents to the poll (fielded during the last week of March) were a bit less trusting of the press: 30 percent had a great deal of confidence in the accuracy of media coverage of the war, with another 51 percent voicing a fair amount of confidence. At the same time, a majority rejected the notion that TV’s real-time images of war seem unreal. Just 9 percent “strongly agreed” (and 22 percent just plain “agreed”) that “the war doesn’t seem real” when seen on TV; 21 percent “strongly disagreed” (and 46 percent simply “disagreed”).

Different sorts of war lead us to value different traits. If the conflict in Iraq had been a two-week cake walk, words like “rapid” and “precision” would have seen their stock rise. The war we’re getting instead will put a premium on terms like “steadfast,” “resolute” and “determined.” Don’t be surprised if the latter batch of words starts getting more play than usual in ad copy. The battered financial-services category is one obvious candidate for an infusion of such vocabulary.

Divide the U.S. population up in the usual ways—by age, income, geography, education, etc.—and you find majorities of varying sizes expressing support for the war. The conspicuous exception is race. A week into the war, Gallup found 78 percent of whites favoring the effort to oust Saddam Hussein, while just 29 percent of blacks did so. You might suggest this is because blacks tend to be Democrats. But the same survey found 53 percent of all Democrats backing the war. Even among self-described liberals, 44 percent did so. As bad luck would have it, this black/white split comes at the same time the Supreme Court has taken up the divisive issue of affirmative action. None of this means blacks and whites will be at each other’s throats, but it does suggest the stars are not aligning to give us a heyday of racial harmony.

War has miscellaneous minor effects on the home front, even if the conflict is relatively brief. A bulletin from The NPD Group speculates that Americans may eat more takeout food as the lure of TV news keeps them out of the kitchen. To support this theory, the research firm digs up data showing a significant bump in takeout revenue during the first Gulf War. The war is also disrupting Americans’ daily schedules. Gallup found 57 percent of its respondents saying they’ve stayed up late and/or awoken early to follow coverage of the battles. Never underestimate the pull of normality, though. Polling by Mullen found people more attached to their customary consumer behavior two weeks into the war than they’d been the day before it began. As the agency noted, people seemed to feel we’re a “few weeks into the fighting and the world hasn’t ended.”

And so to embed. Americans are quick to develop a sense of entitlement, and this war is making them feel more entitled than ever to information. Once having been able to witness a war in real time, they’ll regard anything less as a violation of their rights. We can predict that something of this attitude will spill over to the way Americans view the consumer economy. Woe betide the company that tries to be too secretive about its money-making activities now that we’re used to having live-action video of U.S. troops in battle. If the Pentagon can give us that sort of access to matters of life and death, consumers will have little patience for corporations’ efforts to keep proprietary information under wraps.

Women aren’t from Venus anymore, but that’s not to say they’re comfortably martial in spirit. While women are less likely than men to favor the war, polls find a majority of women are in the pro-war camp. The recent Gallup poll is typical, with 78 percent of men and 66 percent of women backing military action. Similarly, the CBS News survey found 68 percent of men and 55 percent of women saying the regime’s removal by force “is worth the cost.” The sharp gender division comes in emotional reactions to the war. The chart here, excerpting data from the Pew Research Center survey, documents this phenomenon. CBS News found another such gap on the question of whether the war makes people feel “nervous or edgy.” Women in the poll were twice as likely as men (37 percent vs. 18 percent) to say it makes them feel this way.