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Americans Remain Down on Draft

by Darren K. Carlson

The U.S. and Iraqi assault Monday on insurgents in Fallujah is the latest reminder of the serious challenges still facing the United States in Iraq. To date, more than 1,100 U.S. soldiers have been killed, including 800 in hostile combat. With these troubling numbers as a backdrop, a recent Gallup Poll* shows the American public remains disinclined to believe the United States should return to the military draft.

According to the Oct. 11-14 poll, 14% of Americans believe the United States should return to the military draft, while 85% believe it should not. These results are similar to those found roughly a year ago in October 2003, but are well below those from January 2003, when, not long before the Iraq war began, more than a quarter of Americans (27%) thought the United States should return to the military draft.

A look at the question's long-term trend shows that support for the draft was much higher in the early 1980s when the Cold War was still raging. In 1980, a majority of Americans (59% in a January poll, 58% in July) said they favored returning to the draft. But skipping ahead nearly 20 years, Gallup's next reading on this question from 1998 found that support for the draft had dropped to 16% -- close to its current level. (Whether that drop was related to the 1998 face-off between the United States and Iraq over U.N. weapons inspections, or whether it was the result of other events in the intervening years, is not known.)

Age Matters

Men between the ages of 18 and 25 are most likely to be affected by a return to the military draft, so it is not shocking to find that opinion on the subject varies somewhat by age. The youngest American adults (18- to 29-year-olds) are less likely to say the United States should return to the military draft than older Americans (aged 50 and older).

Election Aftermath

In September, the organization "Rock the Vote" e-mailed 650,000 people, warning of a possible return to the draft if President George W. Bush was re-elected. The draft issue later became part of John Kerry's mainstream campaign. Both candidates addressed the military draft during the debates, promising that there would be no return to the draft if they were elected.

Most people seem to be convinced by these denials. When asked in October if they thought the United States would return to the military draft if either Bush or Kerry were elected, Americans were skeptical that such a thing would happen under either candidate's watch. But Bush's re-election may be making some draft opponents nervous; while just 19% thought the draft would return if Kerry were elected, roughly a third (34%) thought it would return if Bush were re-elected.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,012 adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Oct. 11-14, 2004. For results based on this sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum error attributable to sampling and other random effects is ±3 percentage points. In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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