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Gallup Vault: Americans' Views as the Iron Curtain Descended
Gallup Vault

Gallup Vault: Americans' Views as the Iron Curtain Descended

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Seventy-five years ago this week, former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered one of the seminal speeches of the 20th century at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri. In that March 5, 1946, speech, Churchill highlighted several aggressive moves by the Soviet Union, including the occupation of Eastern Europe, noting, "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent." The phrase "iron curtain" would become shorthand to describe what was then the Soviet Union, along with its client states, during the Cold War.

Additionally, Churchill called for a "fraternal association of the English-speaking peoples" and a "special relationship between the British Commonwealth and Empire and the United States," which amounted to a military alliance between the two countries. Shortly after the speech, and amid growing tensions between the U.S. and the Soviets, Gallup asked Americans their opinions of Churchill's proposed alliance.

The poll found Americans were widely aware of the speech, with 68% saying they had heard or read about it. But their reactions to Churchill's proposed U.S.-Great Britain alliance tilted negative. Forty percent of all Americans said they disapproved of the U.S. and Great Britain continuing their present military cooperation as a check on Russia, while 18% approved. Another 4% thought the two countries should "stick together," but not with a military alliance. The rest either had no opinion or weren't familiar with the speech.

Americans' Views on Winston Churchill's Proposed "Fraternal Association" Between the U.S. and the British Empire*
Did you hear or read about Churchill's speech in which he suggested a continuation of the present military cooperation between the United States and Great Britain as a check on Russia's present moves? [IF YES, ASK:] What is your opinion on his suggestion?
Familiar with speech
Approve of his ideas and think they are right 18%
The U.S. and Britain should stick together, but have no military alliance 4%
Disapprove of Churchill's suggestion 40%
No opinion 6%
Unfamiliar with speech 32%
* Among all Americans, 68% of whom reported awareness of Winston Churchill's speech.
Gallup, March 1946

Gallup's original press release that reported these findings listed some of the specific reasons respondents gave for disapproving of an alliance between the U.S. and the British, including:

  • concern that an alliance would further promote "jealousy and distrust"
  • belief that the British already relied too much on the U.S.
  • a desire for the U.S. to avoid military alliances of any kind
  • belief that all disagreements should be worked out in the United Nations organization

Americans Opposed Soviet Foreign Policy but Were Mixed on What Steps to Take

In the same 1946 poll, Gallup asked the public how they felt about the policy Russia was following in world affairs and how the U.S. should respond. A solid majority of Americans, 71%, disapproved of Russia's foreign policy, while 7% approved and 22% had no opinion.

When asked what the U.S. should do in response, half of Americans favored strong action, while 16% favored negotiation or "appeasement," and 12% favored no action at all.

Americans' Views on U.S. Responses to Soviet Foreign Policy
If Russia continues her present course what should we do, if anything?
Take a strong stand
Be firm, make her stick to agreements, no appeasement 44%
Don't send money or materials, cut off Lend-Lease 5%
Sever relations with her 1%
Total favoring a strong stand 50%
Negotiation or appeasement
Go before the U.N.O.* 8%
Get together and work things out 7%
Try to appease Russia 1%
Total favoring negotiation or appeasement 16%
Other actions
Do nothing, let her go, avoid trouble 12%
Miscellaneous/No opinion 22%
* United Nations Organization
Gallup, March 1946

The largest percentage of Americans, 44%, believed the U.S. should "be firm" with the Soviet Union, "make her stick to agreements" and not appease it.

Fewer Americans supported strong and punitive approaches -- such as cutting off material support, including the then-ongoing World War II-era Lend-Lease program (5%) or totally severing relations (1%).

Larger percentages of Americans favored negotiation with the Soviets -- including taking the dispute before the United Nations (8%) or attempting to "get together and work things out" (7%). One percent of the U.S. public supported outright appeasement of the Soviet Union.

Twelve percent of the U.S. public supported the U.S. "doing nothing."

Churchill's "Iron Curtain" speech is remembered as one of the opening moves of the Cold War, and the Gallup data show why it may have been needed to stir U.S. support for a bilateral response to Russia. It was a confrontation Americans weren't quite sold on, having just finished fighting the Second World War. But despite Americans' doubts, Churchill's speech would prove remarkably prescient. Just three years later, in 1949, Churchill's proposal for a "fraternal association" would be given form in the newly created North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). And for decades to come, foreign policy analysts and politicians in both countries would refer to the U.S. and Great Britain as having a "special relationship."

View the original 1946 Gallup news release on Russia and Great Britain (PDF download).

Read more from the Gallup Vault.

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