Friday, February 24, 2006

YMCAs and OSHAs: The Foreign Policy Generational Gap

A recent survey by Pew highlights a notable generational gap on foreign policy perspectives. If you look at attitudes of the two extreme age groups that were surveyed -- those who are 18-29 and those who are 65+ -- the differences in foreign policy perspectives are stark. In fact, we have a tale of two Americas. Call them the YMCAs and the OSHAs: Young Militaristic Cosmopolitan Americans and Old Skeptical Historical Americans.

According to survey the younger generation are militaristic. They are far more likely to support military action in Iraq, and more comfortable authorizing use of force to maintain oil supplies, prevent famines, or restore law and order with failing governments. As the survey says, "it is older Americans, not young people, who typically show the greatest wariness about using military force." They also are more "cosmopolitan" in the sense that they have a stronger global perspective. They strongly favor the United Nations, are more willing to cede American power to other countries, are committed to compromise with allies, want to improve the living standards in developing nations, and favor free trade. "[Y]ounger age cohorts are not only more likely to be defenders of internatioanal agreements but also to express concern about the protection of innocents abroad.... [W]hile younger people believe America's best approach to foreign policy is through cooperation and compromise, they also see the use of military force as a tool in the foreign policy toolbox - a practical and tough-minded way to achieve a compassionate end."

At the other extreme, the oldest generation are skeptical of military force and appear to view the world through the prism of history. They are far more skeptical of the military action in Iraq, and are deeply wary of authorizing the use of force to maintain oil supplies, prevent famines, or restore law and order. They distrust the United Nations, are skeptical of free trade, and are far less likely to favor compromise with allies or ceding America's superpower status. They appear to have a stronger conception of duty, expressing more willingness to fight for our country, right or wrong. As the survey suggests, the oldest generation's views "are shaped by the events and experiences they share such as World War II, Vietnam, and the end of the Cold War."

Here is an edited version of some of the results:


18-29

65+

Gap

Support War in Iraq (F’03)

67

48

19

Support Force to Maintain Oil Supply

54

28

26

Support Force to Prevent Famines

55

24

31

Support Force to Restore Order

48

24

24

Favorable View of United Nations (O’05)

58

35

23

Should Compromise on Foreign Policy

62

46

16

Should Accept Power Sharing

40

24

16

Support Free Trade

58

33

25

Improve Living Standards Abroad

38

28

10

Fight For Our Country Right or Wrong

51

64

13


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