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Tuesday, November 18, 2003

GUARDIAN’S POLL ON BUSH, WAR AND AMERICA REVEALS ODD GENERATIONAL GAP Even I am not immune to being slide into mental laziness, so I just took for granted the unpopularity of Bush and the Iraq war in Britain at this moment. Today the Guardian has released a poll that shows that public opinion is not quite so stark and has in fact recently been shifting back towards support of the war. In total 43% welcome Bush’s visit, while it is opposed by 36%. I was surprised that despite all the negative press in the recent past, 62% of the British people agree that America is a force for good in the world, while only 15% opposed this notion. With 70% this view was most popular in the 25-34 age bracket to which I belong mentally, if not technically. The bad news in this part of the poll is the fact that nearly a third of 18-24 year olds think America is a force for evil in the world. I was pleased to see that with 47% against 41% support for the removal of Saddam’s regime is still holding its ground. Again there is an interesting age difference between the 18-24 and the 25-34 groups. In the older group more than half thinks in hindsight that the war was justified and a third thinks it wasn’t whereas in the younger one the results are reversed. All in all both groups are a stark contrast to the more measured opinion mix in the older sections. I find this quite intrigueing and wonder what could behind this divergence. It could certainly make for some strange “generation” conflicts. This is also the first time I have noticed such an opinion gap anywhere. The more familiar gaps between genders, classes and political affiliations are clearly on show. The good news is that the support for the occupation to last until Iraq is in better shape is consistently above two-thirds polled.

Update: Sorry, forgot: Here is the link to the story and the poll.
I’ve given the age gap some thought. My initial hunch is what people would have seen of world affairs and America’s role in it between the ages of 14-18, an important age in which first political impressions are made. So what would today’s 18-24 year olds have seen of America and the World? They would have seen America bombing in Bosnia, bombing in Iraq, bombing in Serbia, bombing in Iraq again, shortly interrupted by 9/11, America bombing and invading Afghanistan and finally America bombing and invading Iraq. What they didn’t see was what the 25-34 year olds have seen: America ending the Cold War (not only America, but still), America ushering in an unprecedented period of worldwide democratisation and economic growth, America saving Kuwait and probably the rest of the Middle East from Saddam. There is another thing however, which may make the real difference. The younger anti-Bush crowd may screech hysterically “Yanks go home”, but the older group too well remembers what happened when the Yanks went home and minded their own business: the uprisings in Iraq crushed by Saddam with utter brutality (tens of thousands killed), the butchery in Bosnia (two hundred thousand dead) and ultimately the genocide in Rwanda (eight hundred thousand dead). There are of course more examples, but my point is clear. After Rwanda even Clinton saw that America couldn’t morally afford to sit around and do nothing. America throwing its weight around is to a large extent a reaction to this. But that is all the 18-24 year olds would really have consciously registered. Srebrenica is something they didn’t see more or less live on television as the older group have. I did and it is hard to describe my sense of relief when the US finally led Nato to bomb and put an end to mass murder. I’m not sure that’s the right explanation for this quite marked gap in perceptions today, I’m just guessing after all, but for now it looks convincing enough to me.

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