WHAT ARE THE MAJOR SOURCES of opposition to the Vietnam war? Who are the hawks? What does the “silent majority” really think?
Among political commentators, public officials, and even antiwar leaders, there has been a general—and unexamined—agreement that working-class citizens are not critical of the war. From scattered displays of working-class patriotism, many observers have drawn the sweeping and erroneous conclusion that blue-collar Americans favor a more aggressive policy in Vietnam. But the evidence does not support this conclusion.
On the contrary. Several studies of public attitudes have demonstrated that persons with meager incomes or limited education are more likely than those of higher status to oppose the escalation of the war and to support a withdrawal of U.S. troops from Vietnam. A national survey in 1964, 1 for example, found that 53 percent of college graduates favored to bring more American soldiers to Vietnam, even if that would mean risking war with Communist China—but only one-third of persons with only a grade-school education endorsed this policy. Opposition to the total withdrawal of U.S. forces was expressed by three-fourths of the survey’s respondents with a college degree, compared to 38 percent of those who had not entered high school.
Another national survey, conducted shortly after the 1964 elections, disclosed similar results. 2 Here major support for the escalation of the war was found among the college-educated, professional or managerial occupations, and among persons earning more than $10,000 annually; the strongest approval of a complete withdrawal from Vietnam, however, was registered among Americans who had not finished high school, those with annual incomes below $5,000, and among blue-collar employees. Even during the initial stages of the conflict, military intervention in Vietnam was viewed less favorably by working-class than by middle- or upper-middle-class voters.