Poll: 51% of Americans favor lowering draft age to 18 (5-11-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (May 11, 1941)

The Gallup Poll –

51% for taking younger men in Army; Congressional group studies proposal

By Dr. George Gallup

Princeton, N.J., May 10 –
Lowering of the draft age to 18 instead of 21 – a step which would add about 3.5 million young registrants to the millions already on file or in training camps – is approved by a small majority of the voters in a nationwide Institute survey completed early this week.

Though President Roosevelt has emphasized such a step is not to be taken immediately, the President told a press conference April 15 that Congressional committees had agreed to study the proposal for possible legislation later in the year.

The Institute survey was begun shortly after the President’s statement, and asked whether men between the ages of 18 and 21 should be included on the draft “along with those from 21 to 35” – the present age limits.

The majority, favoring a lowered draft age, indicated they believed younger men would be more adaptable to Army training, would have a longer period of usefulness in defense, and would not in most cases have “settled down” to steady jobs and families of their own.

But the survey reveals a relatively large number of citizens who believe that 18 is too young, that the country already has a sufficiently large reservoir of manpower in the groups between 21 and 35 and that lowering the limits would interfere with higher education and technical training.

Favor lowering draft age to 18… 51%
Oppose lowering draft age to 18… 44%
No opinion… 5%

If those without definite opinions are excluded, it would indicate a division of 54% favoring a lower limit, 46% opposing one.

Since the success of national defense moves depends to a considerable degree on public approval and cooperation, what the public is thinking on the question of lower draft levels may have much effect on plans mapped in Washington.

But, whereas 51% favor a lower age-limit in today’s survey, it will be remembered that 71% were found approving the original conscription act in an Institute survey last August.

Afterwards, when the draft had actually been in operation a while, 89% were found approving it.

Here is the way opinion divided on the question in various sections of the country:

For lower draft age Against lower draft age No opinion
New England and Mid-Atlantic 53% 41% 6%
East Central 56% 38% 6%
West Central 53% 44% 3%
South 45% 51% 4%
West 47% 49% 4%

By sex

For lower draft age Against lower draft age
Men 58% 42%
Women 43% 57%

Interviews were not obtained with persons under voting age, but it may be remembered that in previous surveys youths between the ages of 16 and 21 were more willing to face the prospect of a year of military training than those immediately older – many of whom pointed to steady jobs and families dependent upon them.

In any case, the fact that as many as 51% of the voters have come to favor drafting young men between the ages of 18 and 21 is interesting evidence of the way American public opinion has developed in the last 12 months.

Prior to the fall of France, and the complete reversal of many American assumptions about the war, a majority of voters opposed peacetime conscription altogether in Institute surveys.

But by last June – and actually before conscription was called for by either President Roosevelt or members of Congress – a majority had come to approve it as essential to U.S. defense.

At the same time, the Institute found the public approximately 2 to 1 for a system of universal military training, which would include all able-bodied men automatically, upon reaching 20 years of age.

In all sampling studies some margin of error must be allowed fior due to the size of the sample itself. In recent months, the Institute has included from 3,000 to 41,000 persons in individual surveys, the exact number depending on the statistical problems involved. In today’s survey approximately 3,000 persons were included, which means that any error in the national totals due solely to the size of sample will not exceed 3%.

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