Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts


Political Science


The proportion of black Americans serving in the United States military is much larger than their proportion among the general population. This issue came to the forefront· during the Persian Gulf War of 1990-1991. While proud that many blacks were serving in uniform, and that the leader of the entire military, General Colin L. Powell, was black, many black Americans expressed dismay at the potential for high black casualty rates and questioned why the high numbers of blacks in the military even existed. In addition, public opinion polls showed that blacks were less supportive of the war than whites. This thesis tests three hypotheses for explaining the racial gap in public opinion support for the Persian Gulf War, with a particular emphasis on public opinion among black opinion leaders in Richmond, Virginia. First, the carryover effect from the Vietnam experience that still causes many Americans nnrest when debating sending troops overseas to fight a war is more pronounced among blacks than whites. Second, blacks have more to lose personally when the country goes to war because a disproportionate number of blacks serve in the military. Third, blacks believe that the government should focus more on social problems and civil rights at home than on military policy overseas. After reviewing the national public opinion polls about the Gulf War and the literature on public opinion, foreign policy, the Gulf War, and black social attitudes, this paper tests the three hypotheses using surveys and interviews with black and white public opinion leaders in the city of Richmond, Virginia. None of these three hypotheses alone fully explains why black support for the war remained lower than white support, but two of the reasons -- the carryover effect and concerns about misplaced priorities -- help to explain the racial gap.