Supermajority of Americans Support Increased Combat Role for Women

By Matt Cover | February 23, 2012 | 12:05 PM EST

Army Spc. Monica Brown, a medic from the 782nd Brigade Support Battalion, 4th Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, received a silver star at an award ceremony at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, on Thursday, March 20, 2008. (AP Photo)

( percent of Americans support allowing women to serve in close combat units, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday. Giving women a larger military role was supported by a majority of every demographic group surveyed.

The poll of 2,605 registered voters–conducted from February 14-20–found that a full 75 percent of Americans support allowing women to serve in traditional frontline combat roles if they want to. Currently, women are not allowed to serve in close combat ground units such as infantry and tank units.

The Republican presidential candidates were asked about their views on the issue at Wednesday night’s debate in Arizona. All four expressed support for allowing women in the military but stopped short of endorsing an increased combat role for women.

Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Santorum all said that they would defer to military leaders on the question of how involved women should be in combat positions.

Gingrich and Santorum added that the distinction between combat and non-combat roles was growing increasingly dim as military realities evolved, making the question of which military roles are appropriate for women mostly moot.

Santorum did say that he had “concerns” about women filling certain roles in the military – defending a comment he made on February 10 that women may not be appropriate for some military roles because they might be distracting to men.

“When you have men and women together in combat, I think there's -- men have emotions when you see a woman in harm's way. I think it's something that's natural, that's very much in our culture to be protective, and that was my concern,” Santorum said February 10 on NBC’s “Today Show.”

“[T]he issue is -- and certainly one that has been talked about for a long, long time -- is how men would react to seeing women in harm's way, or potentially being injured or in a vulnerable position, and not being concerned about accomplishing the mission.”

During Wednesday’s debate, Santorum said that he still held those concerns, but added that he would listen to the advice of military leaders. However, Santorum reminded the audience that where women would be allowed to serve in combat would not ultimately be made by the military.

“I still have those concerns, but I would defer to at least hearing the recommendations of those involved. But I think we have civilian control of the military, and these are things that should be decided not just by the generals,” Santorum said Wednesday. “We should have sober minds looking at what is in fact the best, proper -- proper roles for everybody in combat.”

Representative Ron Paul (R-Texas) did not say whether he supported an increased role for women in the military, saying only that women serving to defend the country was “the way it should be.”

“Now, if we're defending our country -- and we need to defend, believe me -- with men and women will be in combat and defending our country, and that's the way it should be,” Paul explained.

In its survey, Quinnipiac found that allowing women to erve in close-combat roles was supported by 60 percent of Republicans, 85 percent of Democrats, 77 percent of independents, 70 percent of men, 79 percent of women, 73 percent of white voters, 85 percent of black voters, 77 percent of Hispanic voters, and 67 percent of military households.

It also found support among 77 percent of those with college degrees, 73 percent of those without college degrees, 68 percent of Protestants, and 74 percent of Catholics. The issue was supported by greater than 60 percent of all age groups and by more than 70 percent of all income levels.