Playing against type: Women link family security with being tough on Iraq

Women clearly link family security with being tough on Iraq

Generally, American women have expressed greater reluctance than men to engage the US in conflict, commit troops abroad, or implement the death penalty at home, favoring instead peace through compromise, cooperation, and negotiation. The so-called gender gap that many pretend is about abortion, actually has had a fixed place in American politics on questions of use of force.

Shortly before the Persian Gulf War in January 1991, men were much more likely than women to favor sending ground troops into Iraq. CNN/Gallup archives show there was a 22-point gap then, with 67 percent of men and 45 percent of women favoring such action.

But, since then, a seismic gender shift on matters of war has appeared.

Today, a majority of women support sending ground troops to Iraq. Indeed, unlike most other issues on the national landscape, a majority of American men and women are of one mind on the matter of waging war.

Women are actually slightly more likely than men to support President Bush on sending ground troops to Iraq - 58 percent of women to 56 percent of men, according to a recent survey by CNN. Other polls, too, confirm that.

At least two major factors have influenced this change:

• The events of 9/11.

• The ascendancy of Mr. Bush as a trusted commander-in-chief.

In an instant, the unspeakable events of 9/11 transformed shrugged shoulders into raised eyebrows for many Americans whose '90s cocoon of peace and prosperity had been punctured.

This is perceptible in the intragender gap that exists among women according to age. Younger women are more supportive than their older counterparts of the president's war effort. That same CNN poll showed that 66 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 49 support going to war, compared with less than half - 48 percent - of women aged 50 or older.

The younger set is statistically more likely to have children living at home, heightening their concern about personal safety and additional acts of terrorism. Older women have witnessed wars with casualties that the younger generation merely experiences through history books.

Women have traditionally paid less attention than men to foreign policy. But an attack on US soil and the prospect that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction pointed at American children has engaged women's instinct to reclaim immediate physical safety and long-term national security.

It is not surprising, then, that in a survey of 800 women conducted by the polling company™ , inc./WomanTrend for Ladies' Home Journal shortly after 9/11, 65 percent reported to have entertained thoughts of "revenge" to make the perpetrators "pay for what they did." Our polling shows that sentiment persists 15 months later, as a majority of women approve of Bush's handling of terrorism generally and Iraq specifically.

Trust in the president's management of these tasks is stunning - even among women who didn't vote for him in 2000.

The president's robust approval ratings - which hover between 65 percent and 70 percent in most polling - are hardly remnants of 9/11. They suggest a deeper comfort with him at the helm. His steadiness is a welcome response to the uncertainty and inconsistency that tug at the American psyche.

Similarly, the historic GOP gains in the November midterm elections weren't merely sustained applause for Bush's visits in a dozen states in the waning days of the campaign. Voters - a majority of them women - selected candidates who said that a vote for them would be a vote for the president and his agenda once they got to Washington. At the top of that agenda is an unapologetic commitment to the dismantling of Al Qaeda, the rebuilding of Afghanistan, and the reckoning with Saddam Hussein.

But support for Bush's war effort should not be confused with blind loyalty. For most of this year, women have told pollsters that such support depends in part on the identification of a clear national interest, the exhaustion of other reasonable alternatives, and a consensus of Congress, before use of force and possible all-out war against Iraq. Further, with 9/11 seared on the American consciousness, 75 percent of women tell pollsters they believe that Mr. Hussein will use weapons of mass destruction against the US if he isn't stopped.

Clearly, women are making the connection between Bush's tough approach to Iraq and the safety of their families.

Kellyanne Conway is CEO and president of the polling company™ , inc./WomanTrend, a survey research firm in Washington.

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