Americans 'remember' opposing the Iraq War

May 21, 2015, 12:49 PM GMT+0

Polls in 2003 showed most Americans in favor of the invasion of Iraq, but today those who remember backing the war are a minority

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. In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, just 38% admit that they supported sending troops to Iraq in 2003. Less than a month before that U.S-led invasion, more than six in ten Americans* in a Gallup Poll indicated they favored sending in ground troops.

Republicans are among the most likely to remember accurately: today, two-thirds of Republicans say they supported sending troops to Iraq in 2003; in that Gallup Poll, 84% of Republicans were in favor. More than half of Democrats supported sending troops in 2003, but looking back today, two-thirds of Democrats remember themselves as anti-war, and only 19% admit they supported sending troops to Iraq.

In 2003, women were less likely than men to support U.S. troop involvement; that tends to be the case on nearly all questions about military engagement. Still, 55% of women favored sending troops in 2003. Now a majority of 52% says they opposed troop involvement. Men favored sending troops to Iraq by nearly three to one. Now their opinions about what they believed twelve years ago are evenly divided. As many men say they opposed sending U.S. troops then as say they supported doing so.

Looking back, more than half the public believes sending troops into Iraq in 2003 was a mistake and nearly half say withdrawing them in 2011 was not. Despite the turmoil in Iraq and the rise of ISIS, the public has remained consistent in most post-war and post-withdrawal polls – disapproving the entry of troops twelve years ago and supporting their withdrawal four years ago.

Asked today what should have happened in 2003, by nearly two-to-one the public is clear: troops should not have been sent. Republicans, two-thirds of whom recall supporting the war, are the only demographic group in the poll in which a majority now says troops should have been sent to Iraq in 2003.

*Respondents younger than 30 today would have been under 18 in 2003 and so were not surveyed by Gallup at the time, and another segment of the population will have passed away since then. But the overal effect is probably small – today 41% of Americans aged 30 and up remember backing the war and 49% remember opposing it, versus a 38-47% split for everyone over 18.
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See the full poll results

Economist/YouGov poll archives can be found here.