The Pew Research Center recently released a new Global Attitudes Project survey based on polling conducted in 39 countries. News headlines derived from the polling echoed the Pew survey's title: "America's Global Image Remains More Positive than China's." However, buried within the top-line results was another revelation: "Wide Gender Divide on Drone Strikes." Of the 12 countries for which Pew provided corresponding data, the female-male gap approving of U.S. drone strikes ranged from 31 percent in Japan to 13 percent in Uganda. When the same question was asked in 2012, the female-male gap similarly ran from 30 percent in Germany to 12 percent in Poland. Within the United States, the divide was 23 percent in 2012, and 17 percent this year. American women are also between 11 percent and 14 percent more likely than men to show concern that drones harm civilians, cause blowback from extremists, are illegal, and damage the reputation of the United States.
This female-male divergence of opinions is an enduring characteristic of polls on the use of military force and generally persists regardless of the weapons system employed, military mission undertaken, whether the intervening force is unilateral or multilateral, and the strategic objective proposed. The gap is also one that is sustained over time and is consistently found whenever or wherever comparable questions are posed regarding prospective military options. Richard Eichenberg of Tufts University, who has written several essential works on gender differences in security attitudes, found: "There are many commonalities in the views of men and women, but the direction of gender differences is always and everywhere that women are less supportive of using military force than men."
Indeed, it is an overwhelmingly global phenomenon found in almost every single country where such questions are asked -- though there are less foreign data as the United States is comparatively over-polled. Nevertheless, for example, 13.5 percent more Australian men than women approved of joining the U.S.-led coalition to depose Saddam Hussein in 2003, 14 percent more French men than women supported the intervention in Mali earlier this year, and 20 percent more German men than women think force is sometimes needed to maintain order in the world.
Since the United States has unmatched conventional military capabilities (and has a comparatively high tendency to attack other countries and non-state actors), it is useful to look closely at polls of American adults. If, like me, you are an observer of opinion polling on the use of force, you find evidence of the female-gap for different missions, no matter which type of military action is proposed, or which party is in the White House. Eichenberg examined 486 surveys of the American public between 1990 and 2003, for which a gender breakdown was provided, where U.S. military force was contemplated, threatened, or used. He found that the average gender difference for supporting the use of force was 58 percent men and 48 percent women. This is roughly consistent with data covering significant U.S. military intervention over the past quarter-century:
- 8.5 percent more men than women supported U.S. military action in Iraq during the first Gulf War in 1990.
- 6 percent more men supported intervention in Rwanda in 1994.
- 7 percent more men supported intervention in Bosnia in 1995.
- 6.4 percent more men supported cruise missile attacks in Afghanistan and Sudan in 1998.
- 4 percent more men supported intervention in Kosovo in 1999.
- 17 percent more men supported the U.S. war in Afghanistan in 2001.
- 12 percent more men supported military action in Iraq in 2003.
- 13 percent more men supported military intervention in Libya in 2011.
Beyond historical cases, gender differences are also found if you look at the latest polling regarding uses of force currently under debate:
- 17 percent more men than women support the United States and its allies using force in Syria.
- 28 percent more men think the United States should conduct cyberattacks against other countries.
- 8 percent more men support the United States taking military action to keep Iran from getting nuclear weapons.
- 15 percent more men think that North Korea is a threat to the United States that requires military action.
- 6 percent more men think that President Obama should have ordered troops to go to Benghazi, Libya, on the night of the attack on the consulate.