Notice to readers: As Public Opinion Pros begins its second year, we are pleased to find that with our major start-up costs now behind us, we are in a position to lower our rates for individual and student subscriptions. To subscribe or renew your subscription at a substantial discount from our previous rate, please visit our subscription page. Effective immediately, we will also be offering semester-long subscriptions at group rates for students. For more information, course instructors should please contact us by email at our customer service address.
Last month, when ABC News anchor Bob Woodruff and camera operator Doug Vogt were critically injured in a roadside attack in Iraq, I wondered what the public reaction would be. We hear so much about the power of celebrity to capture Americans’ attention when so little else does, and Woodruff’s name is perhaps the best known to be connected in such a calamitous manner with the Iraq war so far. Would this, as some have suggested, be the war’s “Cronkite moment”—a reference to the instance in 1968, widely viewed as a turning point in popular support for the Vietnam War, when iconic newsman Walter Cronkite said America could not win?
It’s rather striking how ubiquitous have been the parallels drawn between the war in Iraq and the war in Vietnam. Of course, Vietnam has long since become the yardstick against which the wisdom of any U.S. military operation has been measured, and, certainly, it has been invoked every step of the way in the current war.
In this month’s issue of Public Opinion Pros, we offer a somewhat broader perspective on the comparison, as Nicole Speulda explores results from recent Pew Research Center surveys that reveal a gap in the way different age groups view the need to go to war. The findings in “From Vietnam to Iraq: Generations Disagree About the Use of Military Force” are surprising in a number of ways, not least of which is their consistency over time, as Speulda analyzes both Pew and Gallup data to reveal patterns in generational differences that go back at least as far as Vietnam.
Other surprises are on offer in Karl Feld’s “From the Field” piece, “Cele Bune!” A wealth of good, practical advice on managing overseas interview subcontractors is interspersed with colorful accounts of the problems of conducting survey research in unfamiliar territory that will be eye-opening even to those who will never find themselves in the position of having to do it.
In “Changing Minds in the 2004 Election?” Jeffrey M. Jones and Joseph Carroll apply data from Gallup’s postelection panel survey to the questions of when Americans voted in the last presidential election and at what point they decided for whom they would cast their ballots; and in “Four Tiers for America,” Alvin Richman describes an innovative means for measuring how publics in other countries view Americans and U.S. foreign policy, with implications for the ways in which we shape our policies in the future.
It will probably be some time before we find out whether the wounding of Woodruff and Vogt was the Cronkite moment of the war in Iraq. Assuming we even believe it possible to attribute a tidal turn of history to a discrete event like the single pronouncement of a news anchor—no matter how trusted—some passage of time is usually required before such turning points become apparent. Despite accusations that media coverage of the incident has been excessive, it has already faded from the news, and, so far, I have seen no polls that included a question on Woodruff.
If they ever do appear, we will not truly understand their results until they have been weighed against the total picture of public opinion toward the war in Iraq, and set against the total picture of public opinion toward the war in Vietnam, both before and after the original “Cronkite moment” took place. As Nicole Speulda puts it, “Only by tracking . . . opinions of future conflicts will we be able to see” patterns of history, and whether they hold true. To be sure, this is an object lesson in treating poll results as a resource whose value grows over time. And, as always, there remains plenty of work to do if we hope to understand them.
—Lisa Ferraro Parmelee, Editor