The Wichita Eagle

Students do support war on terror

by Howard Fienberg
July 20, 2002

A recent survey of college students left journalists and pundits foaming at the mouth. The finding that most don't see American culture as superior to Islamic culture left one newspaper asking, "Values? What values?"

Upon hearing that many of the students would dodge a military draft, pundit Sean Hannity called the results "insane."

The source of this outrage was a telephone poll commissioned by Americans for Victory Over Terrorism to gauge the opinions of the war on terrorism of 634 college students nationwide.

According to the survey, only 34.3 percent of students would be willing to serve anywhere if they were drafted, while 20.7 percent would serve only in the United States, and 37 percent would find some way to evade the draft. Meanwhile, 70 percent to 79 percent disagreed that American values were superior to those of other nations.

Whither the war on terror? Not so fast. Although these findings made headlines, there were more than a few bright spots in the students' opinions.

For instance, respondents were generally positive about the U.S. war in Afghanistan. Of the half who were asked whether the war was "moral or immoral," 62.9 percent agreed that it was moral. Only 21.4 percent disagreed. Of the other half who were asked whether the war was "just or unjust," 72.2 percent called it just. Only 15.3 percent disagreed. Although the results don't show a student body wildly supportive of missile defense, 58.4 percent support in some fashion the "development of a missile-defense system."

In addition, student respondents seem to overwhelmingly support American action against Iraq, "because Saddam Hussein is still attempting to build weapons of mass destruction." Again, two groups of respondents answered two different questions. Of those queried whether the United States had "the right to invade Iraq," 66.8 percent responded "yes." Meanwhile, of those who were asked whether the United States had "the right to overthrow Saddam Hussein," an even greater 78.4 percent said the United States did have the right.

The students' responses to questions about American and Western cultural superiority seem to be the typical fruit of higher education's penchant for postmodern moral relativism. However, this is not exactly the case. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed (83.2 percent) that there "is good and there is evil" and that there "is right and there is wrong." While not ready to declare American/Western culture and values to be superior, 62.6 percent of respondents agreed that "despite its flaws, the United States is the best country in the world."

Most important, the "students as draft-dodgers" finding is just ridiculous. Posing hypothetical future scenarios is not a particularly accurate way to judge public opinion. There has been little public debate on the draft, and the pollsters provided absolutely no context to the question. Students' opinions have probably not yet been formed. Therefore, the answers don't mean much at all.

The demographics reveal that about 35.7 percent of the students polled were Catholic, and that 11 percent were either fundamentalist or born-again Protestants. That might help explain the most perplexing part of the poll: the answers to the question, "Which do you think is a bigger threat to the United States?" Among respondents, 36.1 percent chose Islam -- and 41.4 percent chose godless communism.

Howard Fienberg is senior analyst with the Statistical Assessment Service, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research organization in Washington, D.C.

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