Aaron Blake comments on a new CNN poll that asks Americans to identify themselves as hawks or doves:

Overall, it’s close, with 50 percent picking the doves and 45 percent picking the hawks.

Among Republicans, though, it is decidedly not close. About seven in 10 (69 percent) say they are hawks, while just one-quarter (25 percent) side with the doves.

The definition offered for being a hawk is someone “who believes that military force should be used frequently to promote U.S. policy.” Doves are those that “the U.S. should rarely or never use military force.” It isn’t exactly news that the GOP is the disproportionately hawkish party. Even without the definition that the poll offers, I assume a huge majority of Republicans would identify as hawks because this is ingrained in Republicans’ view of what distinguishes their party from Democrats, and because it has been the default position for most people in the GOP for a very long time.

Blake concludes from this that most of the GOP isn’t going to respond favorably to a Paul candidacy, and he could be right, but then that takes for granted that Paul really is a dove and is perceived that way. As we saw in a different survey, the hawkishness or dovishness of a possible candidate is not always clear to voters, and the preferences of hawkish and dovish voters seem to match up closely with their partisan leanings. That is why most doves end up supporting the reliably hawkish Clinton in a match-up against Paul. That’s not because Clinton is a dove (she certainly isn’t), and she isn’t widely perceived as a dove, but most doves prefer her anyway for other reasons, which is one more reason why they won’t get the foreign policy that they say they want.

The CNN poll itself shows how confused people can be about these categories. 65% label Obama as a dove, and that is simply wrong according to the definition that the poll offers. The U.S. has been at war every day that Obama has been president, and Obama has initiated two wars on his own authority and very nearly started another one last summer. Obama may be relatively less hawkish than some other politicians in Washington, but that doesn’t make him a dove or anything close to it. This is a case of too many people believing what Obama’s fans and opponents say about him instead of paying attention to what Obama has done while in office. This is why there has been a flurry of articles recently claiming that Obama is a “reluctant hawk.” Looking back on the multiple wars that Obama has escalated or started in the last five years, one can only wonder and shudder in horror at what a truly eager hawk would have done.

The most interesting result is that the hawks are in the minority overall and have been consistently for most of the last decade. Previous polls asking this same question found that those identifying as hawks always account for 44 or 45% of the respondents. I imagine that some hawks will complain that the definition of their position paints them unfairly as people that constantly want to use force around the world, but then that is the position that most hawks take. That is what hawkishness means in practice, and most Americans don’t identify with that.

There was another result from the poll that deserves a brief comment. The respondents were asked if they thought “the United States should or should not take the leading role among all other countries in the world in trying to solve international problems,” and 58% said that the U.S. shouldn’t do this. Just 39% said that the U.S. should. Most Americans don’t identify with a hawkish view, and even more of them don’t buy into the global “leadership” role that their leaders, including Obama, keep trying to foist on them. That suggests that most Americans are inclined to favor a less active, less militarized U.S. role in the world and would probably be supportive of a more dovish candidate if one were available.

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