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Teens: Uncle Sam Needs Who?

Most teens don't worry about being drafted

by Linda Lyons

Army Secretary Francis J. Harvey told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that people and money are the two things that worry him most. And he has reason to be worried -- the Army is short of recruits and last month failed to meet its quota of volunteers for the first time in five years. No official mention has been made about returning to a draft, but that option may remain on the table as long as the United States has significant military obligations in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to many other parts of the world.

Gallup recently asked U.S. teenagers*, whose futures could be greatly affected by a military draft, whether "the United States should return to the military draft at this time." Only 11% of teens think the United States should, while a majority, 86%, think the United States should not.

How Worried Are Teens About a Possible Draft?

In light of the protracted war in Iraq (the second anniversary of U.S. involvement there is this week) and other possible conflicts, it might seem logical to assume teens might be concerned about being drafted. But 7 in 10 teens say they aren't especially apprehensive; 40% say they are not worried at all, and another 31% say they are not too worried. Just 7% of teens say they are very worried about being drafted and 22% are somewhat worried.

Boys and girls differ somewhat in their personal concerns about being drafted -- girls are slightly less worried than are boys. This isn't surprising because historically, young women have never been drafted. Twenty-five percent of girls are very or somewhat worried, compared with 33% of boys.

Women in Uniform

One of the potential pitfalls of initiating a new military draft would be deciding whether to draft women, whose numbers are increasing in the U.S. military ranks. Teens are about evenly divided on the question of including young women, with 51% saying they should and 47% saying they should not. Boys and girls generally hold similar views on this question, though girls are more closely divided (50% to 49% in favor of including women) than boys (53% to 44% in favor).

A Military Career

The necessity of a draft largely hinges on the degree to which the armed services can attract young people. Currently, only 1 in 10 teens say they have a "great deal of interest" in serving in the military, while an additional 26% have "some" interest. Fourteen percent of boys say they have a great deal of interest in joining up, versus 6% of girls.

Bottom Line

The United States abandoned the military draft in favor of an all-volunteer army in 1973, long before today's teens were born. But certainly teen boys are aware of the draft's potential. When they turn 18, they must register with the Selective Service, a requirement that does not extend to young women yet.

*These results are based on telephone interviews with a randomly selected national sample of 1,028 teenagers in the Gallup Poll Panel of households, aged 13 to 17, conducted Jan. 17 to Feb. 6, 2005. 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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