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Students voice their opinions on Iraq

February 13, 2009

A survey on U.S. policy in Iraq conducted by the UW-River Falls political science department last semester indicated the average UWRF student favors economic development and partial U.S. troop withdrawals in Iraq.

The questions asked the students’ opinions on Iraqi affairs, and the past and present role of the U.S. military in the country. A scale was used ranging from “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree.” According to the results, 67.1 percent of respondents did not want any more troops sent to Iraq, 34.9 percent strongly disagreed with keeping the current Iraq policy and 73.5 percent at least mildly agreed that the country was in a state of civil war. A majority (67.9 percent) also said economic development would be an effective tool to promote peace in Iraq, and 52.3 percent agreed (from mildly to strongly) that U.S. policies should switch its focus to the Iraqi economy.

The survey was created in the summer of 2008 by political science professor Erick Highum, UWRF alumna Tara Sowle and student Peter Wetzel. Students took the survey anonymously, from August to December. It was done both online through SurveyMonkey.com and on paper in some political science classes with the professors’ permission. The paper version was also available at tables in the University Center, set up by Wetzel and Sowle as well as students John Byers, Regina Kunesh and Marissa Merchant.

The results also showed students were widely split about whether the recent troop surge made a positive impact in Iraq, and 46.6 percent were unsure about the reliability of Iraq’s current security forces. On whether U.S. forces were adequately protecting Iraqi citizens, 23.7 percent were neutral and 49.7 percent agreed in some capacity.

Of the 332 students who took the survey, most answered all of the questions. Forty-nine students had some sort of military service, 20 of them in Iraq and 29 in Afghanistan or elsewhere. There was a diverse range of opinions, but many consistently leaned toward disapproval of the current policy. Other questions in the survey included how long the military should be training Iraqi forces, whether other Middle Eastern nations should provide funding for Iraq’s economic development, and whether the presence of U.S. troops is making the current situation better or worse.

“The impetus for the survey came out of a small-group exercise I used in my international relations classes that compared various policy approaches to the Iraq War,” Highum said in an e-mail interview. “…Tara, Peter and I co-wrote the questions in the survey…We relied on Peter’s military background for basic questions regarding military service.”

Wetzel, a junior majoring in political science, served four years on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps. His experience included a tour in Iraq. Wetzel said he was pleasantly surprised by the amount of student participation in the survey.

“The survey was kind of lengthy, but a lot of people took the time to take it, and that was appreciated. I think we got a good array of different opinions.” Wetzel said.

Highum said the survey, pre-approved by the school’s Institutional Review Board, was the first of its kind that he has ever done.

“[The survey] enabled me to work with students in a collaborative effort to test policy options on a major international issue,” Highum said. “I am also working on another questionnaire using the same research method for next year to test student opinions on global climate change policies.”

Since the survey was conducted, Wetzel and Merchant have applied for a Falcon grant to present the results at a spring conference in Iowa. The results can be viewed through a link on the main page of the political science department’s Web site.