The Washington Times - January 26, 2013, 01:54AM

Nearly three-quarters of Americans say that, given the opportunity, they would vote to allow women to serve in combat roles. So says a Gallup survey conducted on Thursday, following Defense Secretary Leon Panetta’s announcement that the Pentagon is lifting the ban on women serving in direct combat.

Those findings are a contrast to 1991, when a Gallup poll posed the same question with added qualifications, specifying that soldiers in a combat role must be “able to kill the enemy by shooting at point-blank range, bayoneting and stabbing, clubbing with rifle butts and strangling. They must also be able to carry wounded soldiers from the battlefield.”

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The answer in that era, with those stipulations: 52 percent agreed with the idea of women in combat, 44 percent did not.

These days, there is a modest partisan divide, Gallup finds.

In the current poll, seven out of 10 Republicans agree with the idea of sending women into combat. But 28 percent say they would vote against it. Among Democrats, 83 percent agree while 14 percent do not. Men and women are almost equal in their sentiments: 73 percent and 76 percent, respectively, agree with the idea of women in direct combat.

Only one group is relatively cool to the idea. Among those 50 and older, 63 percent agree, while about third do not.

On a historic note, Gallup has been plumbing public opinion about the issue for over two decades.”Should women in the U.S. military serve in actual combat roles if it becomes necessary in the current situation in the Mid East involving Iraq and Kuwait, or not?” the pollster asked in 1990.

The answer: 60 percent of Americans approved of the idea, 37 percent did not.