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Most Americans Agree That WWII Was Justified. Recent Conflicts Are More Divisive.

Welcome to Pollapalooza, our weekly polling roundup.

Poll of the week

On Thursday, Americans both at home and abroad commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day, the seaborne invasion of France that helped usher in an Allied victory in World War II. The widespread observance of the occasion was hardly surprising; most Americans see World War II as a proud moment in U.S. history. A full 66 percent of Americans said they thought the U.S. role in World War II was “completely” or “somewhat” justified, according to a YouGov poll out this week, while just 14 percent said it was “not very” or “not at all” justified.

That makes World War II the most popular U.S. military engagement of the eight that the poll asked about, as measured by the net share of people who said it was justified (+52). The American Revolution came in second (+47); 61 percent said it was justified and 14 percent said it was not justified. (Yes, apparently after nearly 250 years, there are still some Loyalists out there!) Americans’ perceptions of more recent wars are more complicated. For some of those conflicts, a greater share of people said they see them as unjustified than see them as justified. One of those is the Vietnam War, which 55 percent said was not justified and 22 percent said was justified.

The Civil War is the third-most-supported war in the poll, with 54 percent of Americans saying it was justified and 22 percent saying it wasn’t. Perhaps surprisingly, about the same share of Southerners said the war was unjustified as residents of other regions. Respondents from the South said the Civil War was justified by a 52-percent-to-23-percent margin. As anyone who has seen a Confederate flag in Maine can tell you, Confederate sympathies can be found in all corners of the country.

Similarly, there weren’t big partisan differences on the U.S.’s involvement in the Civil War. About the same share of Republicans (61 percent) as Democrats (57 percent) said they thought it was justified.

But there’s a catch. These numbers may have less to do with the historical reasons behind the war and more to do with Americans’ philosophies about going to war in general. In answer to a different question, 59 percent of Republicans told YouGov that there is “often” or “always” a justification for war, while 29 percent said there is “rarely” or “never” a justification. Among Democrats, those numbers were 21 percent and 66 percent, respectively. 1 Unsurprisingly, then, Republicans are more supportive on net than Democrats of every conflict YouGov asked about — but the gap between the parties is smallest on the Civil War.

More Republicans than Democrats think wars are justified

Share of each party that said a given conflict is “completely” or “somewhat” justified vs. “not very” or “not at all” justified, according to a May 21-22 poll

Democrats Republicans
Conflict Justified Not justified Net Justified Not justified Net Diff.
Afghanistan 26% 55% -29 56% 27% +29 R+58
First Gulf War 28 47 -19 58 20 +38 R+57
Korean War 30 40 -10 56 17 +39 R+49
Vietnam War 14 68 -54 37 44 -7 R+47
World War I 51 27 +24 68 14 +54 R+30
American Revolution 60 18 +42 74 7 +67 R+25
World War II 67 17 +50 77 9 +68 R+18
Civil War 57 24 +33 61 18 +43 R+10

Source: YouGov

Overall, Democrats tended to view older wars (World War II and earlier) as justified, bringing them in closer agreement with Republicans. After the Civil War, the parties are closest together on World War II and the American Revolution. But there is more partisan polarization over more recent wars. For example, Republicans said by a +29 net margin that the current military engagement in Afghanistan is justified, while Democrats said it was not justified by the same margin (-29). The Vietnam War is the only conflict in the poll that both parties said was not justified. But a large majority of Democrats felt very strongly about it while Republicans were divided, so there remains a significant gap between the parties.

Other polling bites

  • In a press conference on May 29, then-special counsel Robert Mueller said, “If we had had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so.” In a survey released this Monday, HuffPost and YouGov asked Americans who were aware of that statement whether they thought Mueller’s report had or had not cleared President Trump of any wrongdoing. Seventy-four percent of Trump voters said they thought it had. They were more likely to say that than Trump voters who were not aware of Mueller’s statement.
  • So far in 2019, several states have passed “fetal heartbeat” laws that ban abortions after fetal cardiac activity can be detected, which can be as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. A new USA Today/Ipsos poll found that Americans oppose these laws 55 percent to 45 percent. In addition, as Missouri may soon become the first state without an abortion clinic, Americans said 73 percent to 27 percent that they don’t want every abortion clinic in their state to close.
  • Morning Consult’s continuous poll of the Democratic presidential primary found that the share of Democrats who say “women’s issues” are their top priority rose from 6 percent to 14 percent in the month of May.
  • In a new poll from Monmouth University, 27 percent of Americans said someone in their household did not receive needed medical care in the past two years because of the cost. And 20 percent reported that the need to hold onto their health insurance plan had prevented them from trying to change jobs at least once in the past 10 years.
  • An Opinium poll in the United Kingdom has put the nascent Brexit Party in first place for U.K. parliamentary elections for the first time. When asked which party they would support, 26 percent said the Brexit Party, 22 percent said Labour, 17 said the Conservatives and 16 percent said the Liberal Democrats. Multiple other polls in the past couple of weeks have shown a similar four-way pileup at the top, a remarkable shift from the traditional two-party dominance of Labour and the Conservatives. It reflects how much Brexit has come to dominate U.K. politics — the Liberal Democrats and Brexit are explicitly pro- and anti-European Union, respectively, while Labour and Conservative opinion is muddled.

Trump approval

According to FiveThirtyEight’s presidential approval tracker, 41.5 percent of Americans approve of the job Trump is doing as president, while 53.6 percent disapprove (a net approval rating of -12.1 points). At this time last week, 41.2 percent approved and 54.2 percent disapproved (for a net approval rating of -13.0 points). One month ago, Trump had an approval rating of 42.7 percent and a disapproval rating of 52.4 percent (for a net approval rating of -9.7 points).

Check out all the polls we’ve been collecting ahead of the 2020 elections.


  1. Overall, 8 percent of Americans think war is always justified, 25 percent believe it is often justified, 41 percent believe it is rarely justified and 8 percent believe it is never justified. This last 8 percent probably accounts for many of the seeming Loyalists or Confederate sympathizers in our ranks.

Nathaniel Rakich is a senior editor and senior elections analyst at FiveThirtyEight.