Hawks and doves: Changes in how Americans classify themselves and recent presidents

Taylor OrthDirector of Survey Data Journalism
December 19, 2023, 6:04 PM GMT+0

Do you consider yourself a hawk or dove on foreign policy? New polling by YouGov finds that more Americans identify as doves (31%) than hawks (20%). This is especially true for Democrats and Independents, who are 31 and 22 percentage points more likely, respectively, to classify themselves as doves than as hawks. Republicans, on the other hand, are 24 points more likely to say they are a hawk than a dove. About half of Americans are unsure, perhaps for some reflecting uncertainty about the meaning of the terms, which were not defined in the question.

The share of Americans identifying as hawks has decreased slightly since we last asked on a survey in 2014, driven by decreases among Independents and Republicans.

Among the last 12 presidents, Republicans are generally more likely than Democrats to be classified as hawks on foreign policy. Only around one in five view each of Joe Biden (19%), Barack Obama (22%), or Bill Clinton (24%) as hawks; even fewer — 13% — describe Jimmy Carter this way. Lyndon B. Johnson, who oversaw escalation of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, is the Democratic president most likely to be rated as a hawk (33%) among those asked about; 29% classify his predecessor John F. Kennedy as a hawk.

Among the last six Republican presidents, Donald Trump is the one most likely to be viewed as a hawk (55%), followed by Ronald Reagan (51%), George W. Bush (51%), and George H.W. Bush (47%). Fewer view Richard Nixon (38%) or Gerald Ford (17%) as hawks, though this is largely because more people say they are unsure how to classify them.

Since 2014, fewer now classify Republican presidents as hawks, and fewer now classify Democratic presidents as doves. The largest shift among the eight presidents included on both polls is for George W. Bush: 51% now call him a hawk, whereas 63% did in 2014.

Americans are more likely to say they'd prefer for the next president to be less (27%) rather than more willing (18%) than Biden to use the American military in conflicts around the world; 31% say they'd like the next president to be about as willing as Biden.

— Carl Bialik contributed to this article

See the results for this YouGov poll

Methodology: This poll was conducted online on December 5 - 11, 2023 among 1,000 U.S. adult citizens. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel using sample matching. A random sample (stratified by gender, age, race, education, geographic region, and voter registration) was selected from the 2019 American Community Survey. The sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, education, 2020 election turnout and presidential vote, baseline party identification, and current voter registration status. Demographic weighting targets come from the 2019 American Community Survey. Baseline party identification is the respondent’s most recent answer given prior to November 1, 2022, and is weighted to the estimated distribution at that time (33% Democratic, 31% Republican). The margin of error for the overall sample is approximately 4%.

Image: Generated by author using DALL-E, an AI image-creation tool