CBS News Poll: U.S. involvement in Vietnam

Hovering U.S. Army helicopters pour machine gun fire into the tree line to cover the advance of South Vietnamese ground troops in an attack on a Viet Cong camp 18 miles north of Tay Ninh, Vietnam, near the Cambodian border, March 1965.

AP Photo/Horst Faas

As the 50th anniversary of the Tet Offensive approaches, few Americans today think the U.S. did the right thing in getting involved in the fighting in Vietnam.  By a margin of more than two-to-one (51% to 22%), Americans think the U.S. should have stayed out of the conflict, versus those who believed the "did the right thing" by participating in the war. Roughly a quarter of respondents (27%) had no opinion.

With the passage of time, the percentage of Americans who think the U.S. did the right thing in Vietnam is relatively the same as when CBS first asked the question back in 1985, while the percentage that says America should have stayed out of the fighting has dropped over time, while the percentage who don't have an opinion has climbed.

Fighting in Vietnam:  The U.S. …

    

Now  

    

4/2000  

    

5/1995  

    

2/1992  

    

2/1985  

Did the right thing  

22%

24%

19%

18%

19%

Should have stayed out  

51

60

72

70

73

Don't know  

27

16

9

12

9

This is particularly true of younger Americans.  Americans who are under 50 are less likely to think the U.S. should have stayed out, and more likely to not have an opinion about the Vietnam War.

Fighting in Vietnam:  The U.S. …

    

Total

    

Age <49  

    

Age 50+  

Did the right thing  

22%

22%

21%

Should have stayed out

51

47

57

Don't know  

27

31

22

Seven in 10 Democrats think the U.S. should have stayed out of Vietnam, while Republicans are more divided.  Independents tend to think the U.S. should have stayed out, though they are also the most likely group to have no opinion.

U.S. Fighting in Vietnam

    

Total

    

Rep.

    

Dem.

    

Ind.

The right thing 

22%

34%

14%

21%

Should have stayed out 

51

38

69

47

Don't know  

27

28

17

32

Polling by the Gallup Organization at the time indicates that before the Tet Offensive, most Americans were supportive of the war effort.  By February 1968 Americans were divided, and by 1970 most thought that sending U.S. troops to fight in Vietnam was a mistake.

Gallup Poll 1965-1971: Sending U.S. Troops to Vietnam Was …

    

1/1971  

    

1/1970  

    

2/1968  

    

1/1967  

    

8/1965  

A mistake  

60%

57%

46%

32%

24%

Not a mistake  

31

32

42

52

60

No opinion  

9

10

12

16

15


This poll was conducted by telephone January 10-14, 2018 among a random sample of 1,009 adults nationwide.  Data collection was conducted on behalf of CBS News by SSRS of Glen Mills, Pa.  Phone numbers were dialed from samples of both standard land-line and cell phones.

The poll employed a random digit dial methodology. For the landline sample, a respondent was randomly selected from all adults in the household. For the cell sample, interviews were conducted with the person who answered the phone.

 Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish using live interviewers.  The data have been weighted to reflect U.S. Census figures on demographic variables. The error due to sampling for results based on the entire sample could be plus or minus four percentage points. The error for subgroups may be higher and is available by request. The margin of error includes the effects of standard weighting procedures which enlarge sampling error slightly. This poll release conforms to the Standards of Disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.