"Make Love, Not War" posters have resurfaced recently as thousands of Americans have participated in anti-war demonstrations against war in Iraq. Gallup polling since Vietnam has attempted to assess Americans' participation in anti-war protests, and also Americans' views on the protests themselves. Only a very small percentage of Americans say they have participated in protests. Americans recognize the right of people to protest, but significant numbers (sometimes a majority) would prefer there be no protests during wars involving U.S. troops.
The Vietnam Era
The 1960s was a time of social upheaval in America. Although minor protests against U.S. intervention in Vietnam occurred in 1963, the anti-war movement did not begin to swell until 1965, when President Lyndon Johnson ordered considerable U.S. military intervention and continual bombing of North Vietnam. In April 1965, the first large-scale march on Washington drew 15,000 to 25,000 people to the capital. In 1967, Gallup asked Americans if they had ever participated in a peace rally on Vietnam; 99% said they had not. When those who had not participated were asked if they would like to participate if such a rally was organized in their area, 9% said yes.
The 1968 Democratic convention convened in Chicago at the height of unrest over the war in Vietnam. War protesters and 12,000 police officers clashed. More than 500 people were arrested and several hundred police officers and demonstrators were injured. When asked if they "approved or disapproved of the way the Chicago police dealt with the young people who were registering their protest against the Vietnam War," 56% of Americans approved, 31% disapproved, and 13% had no opinion.
By October 1969, as anti-war fever continued, more than 2 million people participated in nationally coordinated Vietnam moratorium protests.
In March 1990, Gallup asked the public if it wished it had made a stronger effort to protest or demonstrate against the war in Vietnam. Twenty-five percent of those polled wished they had, while most (67%) did not. The same poll found Americans divided in their evaluations of Vietnam War protesters -- 39% said they had a favorable opinion and 39% had an unfavorable opinion.
The Gulf Wars
It had been nearly 20 years since the last major war protests when America led an attack on Iraq in 1991. Polling conducted at the outset of the Persian Gulf War showed that Americans preferred that there be no protests, but would stop short of a ban that intruded on others' rights. A January 1991 Gallup Poll found a majority of Americans, 57%, saying people who opposed military action should stop the protests now that the war had begun, while 38% said they should continue to protest during the war. However, when the free speech issue was raised in a question asked in the same poll, only 23% preferred a ban on "protests in order to support the United States military operation," while 66% said the "government should permit continued anti-war protests under the free-speech guarantees of the Constitution." A subsequent poll, conducted Jan. 23-26 1991, underscored Americans' preference against anti-war protests, 34% said it was "a good thing that those who disagree with the government are speaking out," while 63% said it was "a bad thing for Americans to be demonstrating against the war when U.S. troops are fighting overseas."
Gallup asked Americans in February 1991 if they had participated in a demonstration for or against the war with Iraq. Just 5% had participated and 95% had not, somewhat higher than observed in the earlier stages of the Vietnam War.
The long build-up to the current war with Iraq gave potential protesters time to organize peace rallies before the bombs began falling. In addition, the fact that Web-based communication was not as readily available during the first Gulf War has made planning and spreading the word about peace demonstrations much easier.
In January 2003, 70% of Americans told Gallup they think it is OK to protest -- regardless of whether they agree or disagree with the protesters -- and just 26% do not think protesting is OK. However, a majority of Americans, 58%, said they disagreed with the protesters at that time.
Now that the war has started, those views have changed somewhat, becoming slightly less favorable to protesters. A March 22-23 CNN/USA Today/Gallup poll shows 69% of Americans disagree with the protesters (up from 58% in January). A majority, 57%, still says it is OK for them to be protesting, but this is down from 70% in January. Forty-one percent of Americans do not think the protesters should be demonstrating.
Gallup polling since the Vietnam War shows a rather low rate of participation among Americans in anti-war protests. Many Americans would prefer there be no protests, especially once war has begun. But at the same time, most recognize the free speech rights of those who oppose the government's action.