U.S. Government Public Opinion Surveys on Security Issues in Western Europe

October 22, 2019

Guide to a Collection in the Tufts University Digital Library

Richard C. Eichenberg

Version 1

September 19, 2019


I have been conducting research on West European public opinion on national security issues since the late 1970s on such issues as images of the United States and the USSR (later Russia), nuclear weapons, the NATO Alliance, defense spending, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Much of this research was based on polling done by the Office of Research (Western Europe) in the United States Information Agency (USIA, whose title varies over the years).

            Much of this information is reported in my books and articles (Eichenberg 1989; 2003), and an additional compilation is contained in this collection (Eichenberg 1981).  However, a great deal of additional information is contained in the original reports that USIA was kind enough to share with me.  It recently occurred to me that eventually I will need to dispose of my files containing these reports, and I knew from experience that they do not exist in any published form that is easily available to scholars (see below on two alternatives: the U.S. National Archives and the World Catalog).

            I consulted with Ms. Andrea Schuler, our Tufts University Librarian for Digital Collections, and Mr. Elliot Brandow, our library’s team lead for the social sciences. They enthusiastically agreed to undertake the digitization of the reports. 

            You can access them in the Tufts Digital Library here.  What follows is additional information that may be useful to scholars studying public opinion on national security in Western Europe (and elsewhere).

Is this a complete collection of survey reports from USIA?

The answer is almost certainly no. The agency responded to my requests for reports on key issues, and in some cases reached out to provide more, but if I failed to ask or I was unaware of new surveys undertaken, those reports will not be in my collection. In addition, the first report in my collection is dated 1978, but USIA had been conducting surveys since the 1950s.  Many of the reports in my collection have retrospective summaries of older surveys, but others may exist in the files of the National Archives.  The World Catalog (WorldCat), discussed below, may also lead you to libraries that hold copies of USIA reports, and these may be available through inter-library loan.  Finally, my first book (1989) contains a very complete bibliography of scholars who studied the earliest USIA surveys (Richard Merritt, Donald Puchala, Karl Deutsch, and Bruce Russett).U

US National Archives

Of course, the USIA is required like all executive agencies to deposit their records in the US National Archives (some of these from the 1980s are listed in the bibliography in Eichenberg 1989).  Thus, it is certain that additional reports are on deposit there.  In addition, I know from experience that the files for each survey contain a contractor’s report, a complete questionnaire, and often a complete table of crosstabulations.

Of course, the challenge is to find them, and the best advice is to seek the help of staff at the Archives or in your own library.  My own quick online check provides a starting point. The following links yield a list of materials for Record Group 306, “Records of the U.S. Information Agency” (RG 306) from the 1950s through 1999:



Finding USIA opinion reports using the World Catalog (WorldCat)

One report in our collection from 1978 states that copies of research reports from USIA were available at a limited number of repository libraries, the list of which was available only by request.  At the time, it would have been extremely difficult to track them down, but the advent of WorldCat now makes it possible to find publications in  libraries worldwide and request them through inter-library loan (depending on policies of the library that holds them).[1]

What follows is a brief primer on using the World Catalog to find USIA reports. First, navigate to WorldCat.  Second, use very specific search criteria.  The following searches will return a list of USIA reports with a list of libraries that hold a copy in their collections (the number of libraries varies from one to ten).  Note that you can limit the search to specific topics, such as “NATO” or “Germany” or “nuclear weapons”.

“united states information agency” “office of research”

“united states information agency” “office of research” NATO

“united states information agency” “office of research” Germany

“united states information agency” “office of research” nuclear weapons

Once you have located one or more reports, use your library’s facility for inter-library loan to request a copy

Archival locations of original survey datasets

This Tufts collection contains written reports that summarize the survey findings, but what of the original survey datasets? Some of these are available in two places:  the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University and the GESIS – Leibniz-Institute for the Social Sciences at the University of Mannheim:[2]

  • Roper Center: search archived datasets here. The Roper Center acquired a large number of original USIA survey datasets.  Search by using “USIA” as the Organization, and limit the search if you wish by choosing a particular country (for example, “France” yields 109 surveys from 1954-1993);
  • GESIS appears to have acquired German surveys only, and the collection appears to be very complete.  Search here using “USIA” as the sole search term.

Other sources on public opinion, national security, and NATO

A number of organizations now conduct surveys in Western Europe.  The following are most useful (in both cases the original survey datasets are available):

  • German Marshall Fund, Transatlantic Trends survey series in as many as 14 countries from 2002-2014. 

In addition, Everts and Isernia (2015) provide a wide-ranging analysis of West European surveys from a number of sources.

Surveys in countries outside of Western Europe

The Tufts collection covers only written survey reports from the West European division of the Office of Research in USIA.  However, other divisions administered surveys in many other countries in South America, South Asia, and Asia.  Some of the survey datasets are deposited in the Roper Center archive, discussed above. A quick search yielded 59 surveys conducted in India from 1973-200, 93 surveys in Japan from 1963-2001, and 24 surveys in Brazil from 1962-2001.  Many surveys from other countries are also held in the Roper Archive.  In addition, written reports of the Office of Research may be found through the World Catalog, discussed above.

Send Us Your Reports!

If you have copies of USIA reports from your research or former government employment, please contact us and we will add it to the collection. 


I am grateful to two fine librarians at the Tufts University Tisch Library for devising and overseeing the digitization of this collection.  The expertise and good humor of Ms. Andrea Schuler and Mr. Elliot Brandow are much appreciated.


[1] If you work in a university, your library may have a customized version of the World Catalog as a separate resource or as part of the library’s search mechanism.  Your librarian is your best friend when it comes to using this resource.

[2] The US National Archives discussed earlier also preserves some digital material, so original survey datasets may also be available in electronic form.


Eichenberg, Richard C. 1981. Source Tables: Public Opinion on National Security and Defense Spending in Western Europe and the United States. Tufts University Tisch Library. http://hdl.handle.net/10427/Z603R985R.

———. 1989. Public Opinion and National Security in Western Europe. Cornell Studies in Security Affairs. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

———. 2003. “The Polls–Trends Having It Both Ways: European Defense Integration and the Commitment to NATO.” Public Opinion Quarterly 67 (4): 627–59. https://doi.org/10.1086/379087.

Everts, Philip P. and Pierangelo Isernia,  . 2015. Public Opinion, Transatlantic Relations and the Use of Force. New Security Challenges Series. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

What do the American People Think about a War with North Korea?

December 14, 2017

There are numerous reports that some officials in the Trump administration are considering a preventive strike to attempt to destroy North Korea’s nuclear capability.  There are also convincing analyses that such a strike would be both costly in human lives and unlikely to succeed.

What do the American people think?

My own research shows that, from 1993 until 2013, about 45% of the public favored military action of some kind as a response to North Korean nuclear activity.  More recent surveys by several organizations demonstrate a) that the public strongly prefers continued diplomatic efforts over military action, and b) support for a preventive military strike is very low (about 25 percent). Support for an unspecified “military action” (CBS News) was 58 percent in August 2017.

More recently (August-September 2017), I conducted a survey of 1000 Americans and asked two questions, the first dealing with air strikes against North Korea to damage or destroy nuclear sites, the second dealing with “sending ground troops” for the same purpose (the survey was conducted in collaboration with the Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University).  Neither question mentioned possible casualties (a point I return to below).

The results below show several things (click image to enlarge).  First, supports for airstrikes is fairly high –62 percent overall, with majority support among Independents and Republicans. However, support for sending ground troops is much lower –only 42 percent overall, with only Republicans showing slim majority support.



An interesting question is how these percentages compare to levels of support for the most recent preventive war undertaken by the United States –in Iraq in 2003.  Richard Stoll and I have reported comparable figures for the Iraq war. Before the invasion of Iraq, 67 percent of Americans (in 103 individual surveys) favored an unspecified “military action” against Iraq (compared to the 58 percent for North Korea mentioned above).  Support for sending ground troops to Iraq without mention of casualties was 56 percent –higher than the 42 percent for North Korea in this 2017 survey—but when casualties in Iraq where mentioned alongside “ground troops,” support dropped to 39 percent. It seems likely that support for sending ground troops to North Korea (beyond those already there) would also be lower were casualties mentioned in the question. Similarly, casualties suffered by troops already stationed there would likely elicit similar levels of disapproval.

In summary, support for military action –including ground troops—against North Korea is lower today than it was in the run up to the Iraq War.  And we now know that support for the Iraq War fell continuously as casualties increased. Since casualties in a war with North Korea are likely to be much higher by an order of magnitude, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that a war with North Korea is likely to further damage the political standing of a president who is already historically unpopular.




A note on survey methodology

The questions on North Korea were included in our broader Tufts survey on the role of gender equality in US foreign policy. The survey was conducted online by YouGov during the period Aug 31, 2017 through September 15, 2017. YouGov administered the survey online to 1,799 respondents who were then matched down to a sample of 1,000 general population respondents and 500 respondents age 18-30 to produce the final dataset. The respondents were matched to a sampling frame on gender, age, race, education, party identification, ideology, and political interest.

We also collected an oversample of 500 respondents age 18-30. We will describe the results from this youth sample in future reports.

Margin of error: +/- 3.65%.

Survey mode: Web-based interviews

Full results of the survey are here.

Principal Actors in the Pursuit of Women’s Rights in US Foreign Policy, 1995-2015

July 25, 2016

Richard C. Eichenberg (Tufts University)

With the assistance of

Elizabeth Robinson, Tufts 2015

Lily Hartzell, Tufts 2018

Lara LoBrutto, Tufts 2017


Second in a series; the first post in the series is here



 In the first post in this series, I described a new dataset that measures the volume of policy activity announced by the Office of Global Women’s Issues in the US Department of State, the office that is a principal location for the formulation and implementation of US government actions in pursuit of global gender equality.

To review, my data on policy “actions” include: a government official speaking in public; all remarks, testimony, speeches, roundtable discussions, interviews, and public appearance; and all press releases, reports, fact sheets, newsletters, op-eds, legislation, and blog posts.

The first post in the series described the yearly evolution of the volume of policy activity.  In this post, I describe which policy actors are most often associated with these policy actions.


Review: The Evolution of Policy Activity across Presidential Terms

 The following graphic displays the total number of policy actions announced during each presidential term (or partial term).  With one exception, policy activity shows incremental growth since the establishment of the President’s Interagency Council on Women in 1995. The exception is the first term of President Obama from 2009 through 2012: the volume of policy activity was more than twice that during any other presidential term (note that activity in the second Obama term will increase when the data are updated through January 2017).

(click image to enlarge)



The “Wellesley Effect” : Principal Actors Associated with Policy Actions

 As I noted in my first post,  the most obvious hypothesis to explain the large increase in activity in the first Obama term is the personal engagement of his Secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, who had also been the first honorary Chairwoman of the President’s Council on Women  and whose activism on issues of global women’s rights is longstanding.  Of course, variations in the engagement of Secretaries of State will also depend on other factors, especially the urgency of competing policy issues that compete for the Secretary’s attention.

My data collection allows me to measure the personal involvement of major political actors in the actions taken in pursuit of women’s rights.  Specifically, for each action that is tallied in the database, my research team also tallied each political actor who was associated with the action.  Thus, if Secretary of State Clinton or Secretary Colin Powell made a speech announcing a gender equality initiative, they are counted as being associated with that action (two or more actors may be associated with the same action, but the action itself is counted only once).  The research team tallied the involvement of the following actors: the President, First Lady, Secretary of State, and Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues (the title of the latter position varies over the years).

On average, 60 percent of actions are associated with at least one specific actor (others are simply announced as departmental or USGOV initiatives), but the percentage varies widely (the standard deviation since 1995 is 17 percentage points).  Perhaps unsurprisingly, Presidents and First Ladies are associated with fewer actions (together about 15 percent), while the Secretary of State and Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues are each associated with 20 to 25 percent of actions.

The relative involvement of each Secretary of State and Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues reveals several interesting patterns (see graphic below).  First is a finding that I call the “Wellesley Effect”:  Secretaries Albright and Clinton were associated with the largest percentage of actions by far – almost twice the percentage of any other Secretary of State.  Second, the increasing importance of the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues is evident in the very high percentage of actions in which they were involved during both Obama terms under Secretaries Clinton and Kerry (Ambassador Melanne Verweer under Secretary Clinton and the first eight months under Secretary Kerry, and Ambassador Catherine Russell from August 2013). Third, the three Secretaries whose involvement exceeded that of their Ambassadors were women: Albright, Clinton, and Rice.  Finally, the data reveal the effect of competing priorities on the Secretary of State.  Secretaries Powell and Kerry, under whom the Ambassador is associated with a larger share of actions, were engaged in intense diplomatic activity on security issues: Powell on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and Kerry in mediation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, negotiations on the Iranian nuclear agreement, and multiple negotiations on the Syrian civil war and the war against ISIS.









One final way to characterize the involvement of the principal actors is to ask which actor was associated with the largest percentage of policy actions during each presidential term.  The table below provides this information.  Several things stand out. First, the most active actors are all women, which suggests that it does indeed make a difference to have women represented in the executive policy process.  Second, Hillary Clinton has twice been the most active actor in this policy field, as First Lady in 1995-1997 and again as Secretary of State in the first Obama term.

Presidential term               Most active (% of actions associated with actor)

Clinton  1995-1997    First Lady Clinton (31%)

Clinton  1997-2000    Secretary Albright (39%)

Bush 2001-2004      Senior coordinators Palmerlee and Ponticelli (28%)**

Bush 2005-2009         Secretary Rice (17%)

Obama 2009-12  Secretary Clinton/Ambassador Verweer (tie 37%/ 36%)

Obama 2013-2015     Ambassadors Verweer and Russell (38%)


** The Senior Coordinator for Global Women’s Issues was the predecessor office of the Ambassador for Global Women’s Issues, which was established in 2009.


Technical note:

The Codebook for the data collection is now available.

Europeans’ Support for Defense Spending is Higher Than Any Time in the Last Fifteen Years

June 15, 2016

A recent report from the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project observes that a lack of support for increased defense spending suggests that Europe is “reluctant to support the use of hard power.”

“Only in Poland (52%), which spends 2.2% of its GDP on the military, and the Netherlands (49%), which spends 1.2%, does roughly half the public support increasing outlays on national defense. Despite commitments by their governments to boost military spending, around half the public in France (52%) and Spain (52%) want to keep defense spending the same as it is today, as does a plurality in Germany and Greece (both 47%). A third of the public in Spain (33%) and about a quarter in Italy (23%) favors cutting military outlays.”

I believe that these percentages substantially underestimate Europeans’ support for defense spending.  Most scholars of defense spending focus not on a single percentage favoring increases or decreases, but rather on the balance of opinion between these two categories (the signal work is by Christopher Wlezien).  After all, for elected leaders, the important political question is whether constituents want more or less defense. Further, most scholars tend to ignore the response category that says spending should “remain the same” or that it is “about right.”  Some citizens may feel this way, but many choose this neutral option because their opinion is not intensely felt one way or the other.  In other words, “keep the same” is not as politically relevant as the percentage of citizens who actually want an increase or a decrease.  Further, most politicians will want to know if and how opinion is changing.

I address both of these issues in this post.  First, I recalculated support for defense spending in the Pew survey using a simple formula for the balance of opinion that wants an increase or a decrease in the defense.  This measure –net support–  divides the percentage who want an increase by the total percentage who favor an increase or a decrease (% favor increase / %favor increase+% favor decrease).  Put simply, this measure summarizes support for increasing defense spending as a percentage of the total who want a change in spending.  Second, using surveys conducted by the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends project, I compare this year’s findings from the Pew Survey to earlier years.

The results for four countries are shown in the graphic below.  Clearly, this measure of support for defense spending is higher in the three European countries than it has been since 2002 (in France and Germany considerably so).  Were I simply to show the percentage who favor an increase, the trend would be exactly the same. Paradoxically, support for defense spending is lowest in the US in 2016.















The same increase in support for defense since 2002 is evident in the other countries sampled by Pew, but showing them all would take considerable space.  Instead, in the graph below, I summarize net support for increased defense spending in 2016 compared to the average net support from 2002 through 2012.  The increase in support over the last fourteen years is considerable in all but Spain. Before 2016, support for increased spending was a majority in only two countries, the UK and Poland.  In 2016, it is a majority in all but Spain. In France, Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden, the increase over the recent average is particularly large.












To summarize: I have argued that net support for defense spending is a preferable measure of citizen preference because it summarizes the balance of opinion between those who want increases and those who want cuts, which I argue is a more politically relevant measure.  Second, by comparing the recent Pew question on support for defense spending to past surveys, we see that citizens are more receptive to increases in defense than at any time in the last fourteen years. Whether this means that Europeans are reluctant to embrace “hard power” is a different question, but for the moment lack of support for defense spending is not a source of that reluctance.

Full disclosure: I served as an academic adviser to the GMFUS Transatlantic Trends project from 2004-2014; the views expressed here are my own.


Does the American Public Agree with Donald Trump’s Views of NATO?

March 24, 2016

Richard C. Eichenberg, Tufts University

Twitter: @IkeEichenberg

America’s most notorious presidential candidate recently expressed critical views of the US commitment to NATO in a meeting with the editorial board of the Washington Post.  These views have no doubt increased European uncertainty about the steadiness of the US commitment, especially as they come on the heels of several years of European disquiet with the Obama administration’s “pivot to Asia,” its approach to the conflict in Syria, and President Obama’s critical comments about “free riders” in his interview with Jeffrey Goldberg (nicely reviewed and analyzed by Simone de Galbert  here).

Are Americans still committed to Europe’s security?  Based on many years of polling, there are two answers: the first is “Yes,”  but the second is “it depends on whether you ask Democrats or Republicans.”

The first chart below shows answers to a variety of questions that elicited positive and negative assessments of the NATO Alliance in national polls since 1974.  Since 1974, an average of 62% of Americans have expressed a positive view of NATO (they want to keep or increase the commitment to NATO or believe that NATO is essential to American security).  The positive assessments do fluctuate, but not by much, which suggests that the commitment is rooted in a solid affinity of interests and common identity with Europe. The three most recent polls are slightly lower, but not lower than some readings in the past, and in any case we might easily surmise that they have risen once again after the terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels (the survey on NATO’s essentiality was not conducted in 2015 or 2016).












A second question shown in the graphic below reveals a sharp divide between Democrats and Republicans on the security partnership. From 2004 to 2014, the German Marshall Fund of the US asked a question about the US-European security partnership.  The question reads: “Do you think that the partnership in security and diplomatic affairs between the United States and the European Union should become closer, should remain about the  same, or should the United States take a more independent approach from European Union?”  Below, I show the percentage of Democrats who prefer a more independent approach from Europe: it averages 21% since 2004 (obviously, remaining Democrat respondents prefer a close or closer partnership).  Among Republicans, however, an average of 44% prefers a more independent approach, and the average since 2009 has been 47%.  Put bluntly, the solid consensus of Democrats is for a close or closer partnership with Europe, while Republicans are divided. (The same divided pattern is evident in party views of NATO’s essentiality –Republicans are less likely to find it essential—but a modest majority of Republicans and a large majority of Democrats find  NATO essential).







None of these figures explain why Republicans are less committed to Europe, and without a historical party breakdown, it is difficult to tell if the trend toward independence is recent or longstanding.  What the data do tell us is that Trump’s criticisms will find some resonance among Republicans.  Put differently, his views are unlikely to damage his electoral prospects. On the Democratic side, the figures suggest that support for continuing partnership with Europe is a view that is likely to find more resonance than a critical one.

For reference:

Most of the surveys above are taken from the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends series. Party breakdown does not include Independents who may lean toward Democrats or Republicans.


Would American and Allied Public Opinion Support Military Action if the Iran Negotiations Fail?

July 2, 2015

Richard C. Eichenberg

Twitter: @IkeEichenberg

 Negotiations continue in Vienna on an agreement that would limit the Iranian nuclear program.  As the talks continue, it is useful to ask: how will public opinion react if the negotiations fail?

Although the wisdom and likely effectiveness of a military strike against Iran have been much debated, the position of the American government has long been that military action remains “on the table.”    Whether President Obama or any future President would choose the military option is obviously uncertain, but one factor that will likely condition the choice is the anticipated reaction of public opinion, both in the United States and in allied countries.

In the US, public support for military action against Iran has been lukewarm over the past ten years –an average of 45 percent from 2002-2013 –although it climbed to over 50 percent after President Obama initiated negotiations with Iran. This is lower than the 60 percent of the public that supported war with Iraq prior to 2003, and it is probably the frustrations of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars that have left Americans less than enthusiastic about further military endeavors.

Another reason may be the simple fact that negotiations are underway and that some progress has already been made in the form of an interim agreement (which the public supports). Public opinion generally favors negotiation and nonmilitary solutions so long as these are realistic alternatives, but pollsters rarely test respondents by asking them what action they would favor should negotiation prove fruitless.

An important exception is a series of questions on Iran in the German Marshall Fund’s Transatlantic Trends surveys. A first question in the battery asks: “As you may know, efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons are under way. Which of the following do you think is the best option?”  Respondents are then offered alternatives that include “military action,”  “economic incentives,”  “economic sanctions,” “support to opponents of the government,” and “use of computer technology to sabotage nuclear installations.”  A final response option is to “accept that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons.”

This is a complicated question, but the public’s preferences are clear:  an average of only 7 percent of Europeans in 2014 chose “military action” over the alternatives (in the US it was 12 percent).  Among the nonmilitary options, economic incentives and economic sanctions were far and away the most popular options.  The breakdown of responses to this question have been very stable since 2010.

A second question was directed to those respondents who chose nonmilitary options in the first question: “And now imagine that all of these non-military options have been tried and the only option left to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons is the use of military force. In that case, should the [European Union/United States/Turkey/Russia] take military action against Iran, or should [it/they] simply accept that Iran could acquire nuclear weapons?”

The responses to this second question are shown below: (click to enlarge image)

iranmil14An important feature of the responses to this question is the unusually high number of “don’t know” and refusals—an average of 22 percent and as high as 30 or 40 percent in some countries. Many respondents simply do not want to answer this question or express an opinion, perhaps because it presents a choice that genuinely conflicts many citizens, or perhaps because they prefer their own alternative (a wish that negotiations could somehow continue?).

Support for military action (combining “military action” in the first and second questions) is divided, although it is higher in some countries than recent levels of support for other military interventions, including intervention in the Syrian civil war (see 2013 and 2014 surveys here). Majorities favoring military action against Iran if negotiations fail exist in only five of the thirteen countries in the survey, although rejection of military action characterizes opinion in several important P5+1 countries, including Germany, Russia, and the United Kingdom.

Nonetheless, I think caution is warranted concerning the firmness of this support.  One reason is the high nonresponse rate noted above.  I suspect –although it is pure speculation—that many of these respondents would have preferred a response option along the lines of “keep trying…continue negotiation to find an agreement.”  If so, actual support levels are probably somewhat lower than those shown above. Further, even if the current negotiations do not succeed (or if violations of any eventual agreement are debated), further negotiation or employment of nonmilitary instruments of policy are likely to follow, and citizens have shown a clear preference for these options over the use of military force.  Finally,  the questions above refer to “military action” by the “European Union” –only in Turkey, Russia and the US are national military forces referenced.  As I showed in this paper, support for using force is always highest when the question refers to an abstract “military action” rather than to a specific action, such as sending troops.

The latter type of specific question was asked in Transatlantic Trends only in 2012 (the overall responses to the preliminary questions were very similar to those from 2014 shown above).  Respondents who chose “military action” to either preliminary question were asked further if they would support using their own country’s military forces  a.] to conduct air strikes or b.] to send ground troops.

The results are shown below for five of the six countries involved in the P5+1 talks with Iran (there is no survey for China). The chart shows clearly that support for conducting air strikes or sending ground troops is extremely unpopular in every country (although air strikes enjoy majority support in the US, confirming a similar result found by the Chicago Council on World Affairs in 2014).  Even lower levels of support characterize opinion in other countries (not shown).  The upshot of the results is that, even though respondents may support “military action” in the abstract, they shy away from supporting the use of their own country’s military forces. If the US does conduct airstrikes, it would likely act alone.




Summary and Conclusions

The surveys presented above point to three conclusions.  First, negotiations with Iran continue, consumers of polls should be cautious with the proclivity of pollsters to ask about an abstract “military action.”  As was the case in the run-up to the Iraq War, support for using force is inflated in such questions.  Second, public opinion in all countries prefers nonmilitary instruments of policy when dealing with Iran, including nonmilitary economic coercion.  So long as any type of negotiation with Iran continues –even in the absence of a final agreement—public opinion is likely to prefer nonmilitary instruments to the use of military force. Finally, even in the event of a complete breakdown in negotiations –or arguments that any agreement is flawed– support for specific uses of military force, such as air strikes or sending troops, is unpopular based on past patterns.  Whether this would change in the context of a renewed harsh tone in relations with Iran remains unknown, but the surveys from 2012 shown immediately above suggest that an attack on Iran would be a hard sell with public opinion in most countries.


Note: in the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I was an academic adviser to the Transatlantic Trends surveys from 2004 through 2014, which means that I helped write many of the questions.  However, I cannot take credit for the Iran questions presented here.  They were the brainchild of another academic adviser, Professor Pierangelo Isernia of the University of Sienna.

Thanks to Pierangelo Isernia, Bruce Jentleson, and Dina Smeltz for comments on an earlier draft of this post.

No, Americans are not misremembering their support for the Iraq War

May 27, 2015

Richard Eichenberg

Twitter: @IkeEichenberg

A recent YouGov/Economist survey seems to suggest that the American people are misremembering their level of support for the Iraq invasion in 2003.  As the figure below shows, only 38% of Americans say today that they supported sending troops to Iraq back in 2003, whereas 63% of Americans said they supported the invasion in a Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll conducted in February 2003.  YouGov’s interpretation: “Americans’ memories of their own past beliefs about the 2003 Iraq War are tinged with their current feelings about what has taken place there since and what is taking place there now.”


There is one problem with this interpretation: it is wrong.  The 2015 question from YouGov was asked after respondents had been exposed to extensive reporting and public debate about the human costs and the frustrations of the war.  In order to accurately compare results from 2003 and 2015, the appropriate question therefore is how the public evaluated a possible war in 2003 when similar considerations were included in survey questions (the Gallup/CNN/USA Today question from 2003 does not mention these considerations).

My own research, along with research I’ve conducted with Richard Stoll, show that citizens’ answers in 2003 were very close to what they think today. True, as shown below, in 49 individual survey questions that were asked from the beginning of 2003 through the day before the invasion, 62% of Americans favored some form of military action –almost identical to the 2003 numbers shown above.  However, as the chart below also shows, in the fourteen available questions that mentioned “ground troops” in the same time period, the percentage was lower – 57%.  Further, if casualties were mentioned in conjunction with any military action, support was 52%. Finally, if sending ground troops and casualties were both specifically mentioned in the question, support dropped to 42% –not far off the number that You/Gov ascertained just last week (the 3 questions were asked in the last three months of 2002).


In summary, when Americans were asked before the war began in 2003 if they would support sending troops that would experience casualties, far less than a majority said yes.  And that is about the same number who say they remember it that way in the YouGov poll.

The view that the American people supported the war in 2003 seems to be widespread, and these polls help us to understand why.  Polling organizations asked about support for the war 49 times from the beginning of 2003 through the day of the invasion of Iraq, but only 4 of those questions asked about support if casualties would be suffered.  More than half of the questions (26) referred to an unspecified, abstract “military action,” for which average support was 66%, but as the figure above shows, support was much lower when specific actions or casualties were mentioned.

The potential skepticism of the public about the war that was about to occur was underestimated for a simple reason: the pollsters rarely asked the right question.  One thing is clear however: the recent You/Gov poll shows that American citizens accurately remember they opposed the war that they got.


I am grateful to Jeffrey Berry, Debbie Schildkraut, Richard Stoll, and Janie Velencia  for comments on an earlier draft



Richard Eichenberg, “Victory Has Many Friends: The American Public and the Use of Military Force, 1981-2005,” International Security 35/1, (Summer 2005).

Richard Eichenberg and Richard Stoll, The Political Fortunes of War: Iraq and the Domestic Standing of President George W. Bush,  London: The Foreign Policy Centre, July 2004.

October Weekly Focus: Gender Difference in Four Crucial States

October 31, 2012


October Weekly Focus: Gender Difference in Four Crucial States

Richard C. Eichenberg

Elizabeth Robinson


(polls through October 28th)

Note: all percentages based on 2 party vote, dk’s excluded

(Update, 10/31:  Graphic corrected to show VA, not FL, in title)


Our previous posts have shown a very stable division of the gender vote for most of October both nationally and in the so-called swing states (based on polls through October 24th).  In this post, we update polls through October 28 for four crucial states: CO, OH, NH, and VA. We chose these states because of their obvious importance to the electoral college, but also because in at least three of them (CO, NH, and VA), there have been some signs in late October polling that Obama’s position may have improved slightly, and it is interesting to examine whether this improvement is due to the gender division of the vote.

There have been 69 polls in these four states during October, totalling over 58,000 respondents.  The average is 5,000 to 15,000 respondents per week. Still, even at these large sample sizes, we should treat any change in percentages of 2 percent or less with caution.  Sampling error and other statistical noise does not disappear, even at large sample sizes.

The graphic below shows the weekly average gender division of the vote in the four states combined.  The pattern is very familiar; after leading in September, Obama’s share of both the male and female vote declined in October, reaching a stable level of approximately 55 percent of women and 45 percent of men (one extra word of caution: this includes only 3 polls after Oct 28th).

Given sampling error and other noise, the best characterization is that these combined percentages have been largely unchanged since October 7th.

(click on image to enlarge)

State-by-State Summary

The number of polls for each state are relatively small on a weekly basis (monthly totals for each state are presented in other posts), so we do not show them graphically.

Nonetheless, a summary of the weekly progression of the polls in October is as follows:

CO:  Obama’s share of women’s votes in CO have been extremely stable at 54-55 percent since October 7th , with male vote stable at about 45-46%

NH  polls have been somewhat erratic. With that caveat, it is the only one of these four states that shows some signs of an increase in Obama’s share of the female vote: from 51-53 percent in the first half of October (which was a major drop from September) to 57-59 percent during the last two weeks of October (which approaches the 60 percent among women that Obama enjoyed in late September and the first week of October).

OH:  the gender race in Ohio has been rock solid stable at 56 percent Obama among women and 47 percent among men, with the overall Obama vote in Ohio between 51-52 percent since October 7.

VA:   There is a mixed pattern in VA, with the Obama female share fluctuating between 54 percent (Oct 27)  to as high as 58 percent (Oct 20), but the overall Obama vote in VA has been stable at 51 percent.

Summary Statistics for this Post

Number of polls and respondents by week (four state totals)

week               #polls    #respondents

Sept 30-Oct 6     6          6397

Oct 7-13          17        14980

Oct 14-20        13        11186

Oct 21-27        22        16512

Oct 28- Nov3     3          2192

Total    61        51267

Number of polls in October, by State

state     #polls   #respondents

CO       11         9876

NH       10          6228

OH       23        20106

VA       17        15057

Total    61        51267

Update in response to questions: polling organizations represented in this post

[number of polls and total respondents]

ANGUSREID         1    550
ARG                          6    3600
CNN/ORC                1    722
FOX                           2    2257
GRAVIS                   3    4111
GROVE                     2    1000
GarinHart                1    807
Gravis                        1    645
LAKE                          3    1400
NBC/WSJ/Marist   10    11407
NEWSMAXZOBGY    2    1674
PPP                               11    8624
PURP                             3    1800
QUINN/CBS                1    1548
QUINN/CBS/NYT    2    2542
SUFFOLK                     2    1100
SVYUSA                       3    2030
TIME                               1    783
UNH                                2    1318
WashPost                      1    1228
YOUGOV    3    2121

Total    61    51267



Gender Difference in 11 Key States

October 29, 2012

Richard C. Eichenberg

Elizabeth Robinson

Tufts University

(polls through October 24th)

In an earlier post,  we showed that the approximately two point drop in President Obama’s national poll standing from September to October was not due to a disproportionate decline among women.  In fact, he dropped by exactly two percentage points among both genders.

The question in this post is whether the same pattern characterizes his standing in eleven key states –what some have called “swing states”.

As we shall see, the answer is mixed:  Obama’s standing has on average declined slightly more among women in the key states, but the decline is actually concentrated in just a few states.  In other states, his support has held steady among women or even slightly increased.  And perhaps most importantly, even after these declines, Obama leads among women and overall in almost every swing state.

The Situation in Five Toss-up States

The five states below are currently listed as “toss ups” on most of the professional polling sites.  As the graphic shows, one reason for this is that Obama lost slight leads in all of these states as a result of a decline in his polling numbers in October.  On average, Obama lost -1.2 percent in these states and -2.9 percent among women.

(click on image to enlarge)

As the graphic also shows, however, these averages mask considerable variety.  In North Carolina, Florida and New Hampshire, Obama declined noticeably, while the decline in Colorado and Virginia was less (and may even be indistinguishable from sampling error and other statistical noise).

In summary, the picture provided by these toss-up states is one of diversity.  In three important states, Obama seems to have declined more among women than among men.  In other states, this was not the case.  Why each state takes the pattern that it does will have to be the subject of future research.


The Situation in Six States That Lean Obama

The situation is similarly diverse among states that most professional poll sites consider safe or leaning to Obama as of October 29.  In the graphic below, we show the level of support among men and women in these states for September and October.  Several patterns are evident.  First, in two states –Michigan and Wisconsin– Obama actually increased his lead among women from September to October (or held steady), one reason that he seems to be comfortably ahead in those states.

(click on image to enlarge)

In most of the rest of these states, Obama experienced small declines  of 2-3 percent among women, but in some cases these declines were offset by an increase in support among men (PA, NV). Third (and not shown in the graph), Obama is running ahead of his margin of 2008 victory among women in five important states: FL, IA, OH, MI, and VA. Finally, given the rash of speculation in the press about whether Obama has “lost” his advantage among women in the “swing states”, it is useful to point out that this graphic and the one shown above demonstrates that Obama is ahead among women in all of the 11 eleven states that most observers consider crucial to the outcome in the electoral college –sometimes by very large amounts in important states.


There are several caveats to the points made above.  First, many of the changes from September to October are small, averaging -3.0% in the first graph and -2.5% in the second (and in both graphs there are outliers that have a large affect on the average). Even with a large number of respondents for a pooled sample of surveys for each state and month, some margin of error remains (on the order of 1-2%; see sample sizes below). For this reason, it is probably useful to focus only on states where the change has been larger than 2% or so: FL, NH, IA, NV, and PA).  Second, it is worth noting that in many states,  the decline in Obama’s share of the vote occurs from a large cushion in September, and in some cases (PA) it may simply mean that vote shares are returning to their “normal” mean for that state.  Finally,  the polls reported in this post end on October 24th,  two days after the final presidential debate.  But many professional polls sites have shown a continuing improvement in Obama’s position after this date, and in particular an improvement in several states covered in this post (CO, VA, and possibly FL and NH in particular).  For this reason, our next post will report updated numbers for these four and perhaps two other states (OH and NC).

Number of polls and respondents for October (through Oct 24th)

state #polls #respondents

CO    9         8676
FL    16     13849
IA    7         5750
MI    1            895
NC    6          6395
NH    8         4854
NV    13    10378
OH    20    18058
PA    8          5914
VA    13    11777
WI    8         7099

Total    109    93645




















The photo on our banner

October 28, 2012

You may be wondering about the photo banner.  It pictures Lake Annecy, as seen from the French village of Talloires, which is the home of the Tufts University European Center (where you can study if you are lucky).

Photo credit:  Madeleine Brown Eichenberg (Tufts 2021)