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US Women's Attitudes on Defense Dramatically Shifts

A new study shows that the attitudes of American women on U.S. defense policies have shifted dramatically in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

For the past two decades, political analysts have been monitoring the differences in the way women and men vote. They call it the "gender gap."

On defense issues, women voters have generally shown less support for defense spending, greater support for arms control and more skepticism about the use of military force than their male counterparts.

Now, an opinion poll conducted before and after the September 11 attack by two independent groups, the Council on Foreign Relations and the Pew Research Center, shows the differences between men and women voters have narrowed.

Jennifer Whitaker is director of the Council on Foreign Relations' project on Women's Human Rights. She says the poll shows striking shifts in attitudes among the women surveyed before and after the attack. "Women," she said, "now favor a higher defense budget by 47 percent. Before September 11th, only 24 percent of women supported a higher defense budget. Women favor a missile defense shield by 64 percent now, up from 52 percent in early September. Women with children at home favor the deployment of a missile defense system much more than other women do, by 73 percent."

The September attack may have narrowed the gap, but it did not close it. Men favor the use of military force against those responsible by 87 percent, while women favor the use of force by 78 percent. Still, 78 percent is high, and represents a significant shift in attitude among women.

Ms. Whitaker says younger women contributed to the change. She said, "I think younger women, and younger men, in this country were less prepared for what happened on September 11th than were the older groups in the population, because they have never experienced a threat that came this close to home. There was a certain shock to the system. Support for more defense spending among women in the age group of 18-to-49 has grown from 17 percent, in early September, to 44 percent."

The study also found that women are more likely than men to believe that life will never return to normal.

The poll is part of a larger study showing that the September 11 attack and the war in Afghanistan have created a new internationalist outlook among Americans and greater support for multi-lateral policies.