Does the Military Vote Really Lean Republican?

Various yardsticks suggest the U.S. military – or at least the officer corps, which accounts for 17% of the 1.4 million-strong active-duty force – leans Republican. But they’re not the monolithic bloc many believe.

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Visar Kryeziu / AP

U.S. Army soldiers walk inside a dining facility where posters urge them to vote in the military Camp Bondsteel in Sojevo, Kosovo on Nov. 2, 2012.

Various yardsticks suggest the U.S. military – or at least the officer corps, which accounts for 17% of the 1.4 million-strong active-duty force – leans Republican.

The nation’s 24 million troops and veterans account for about 10% of the nation’s potential voters, but they’re not the monolithic bloc many believe.

Outsiders tend to think the U.S. military is made up entirely of blood-and-gut conservatives, à la John Wayne, but there’s little real evidence to back that up. When the Iraq war was launched, the consensus among U.S. military officers interviewed at the time was that one in three officers opposed it, suggesting they all weren’t gun ho.

“The officers by and large are more conservative,” says an Army sergeant just back from Afghanistan. “But the enlisted tend to be more liberal.” Of course, with fewer than one in five of those in uniform an officer, there’s a lot more enlisted voters.

But the U.S. military plainly tilts toward the GOP. That’s largely because today’s military is an all-volunteer force increasingly drawn from the Sunbelt, where the Pentagon has focused its recruiting efforts since the draft ended 40 years ago. And traits the military prizes — like aggressiveness and respect for authority — tend to be more pronounced in conservatives.

While the U.S. military assesses its force every which way – here’s the most recent demographic report – it steers clear of asking about troops’ political views. Military leaders have insisted for years that politics has no role in the U.S. military, and that the only way to remain trustworthy is to stay resolutely nonpartisan.

“Former and retired service members, especially generals and admirals, are connected to the military service for life,” Army General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs, said in June. “When the title or uniform is used for partisan purposes, it can erode the trust relationship.”

Of course, not everyone – particularly those who have retired – agrees with Dempsey. More than 300 retired generals and admirals have endorsed Republican Mitt Romney’s bid for the presidency. They’re slated to take this advertisement in Monday’s Washington Times newspaper boasting of their support. President Obama hasn’t released such a list, although he can pocketed the recent endorsement of Colin Powell, a retired Army general and secretary of state.

The independent Military Times newspapers conducted an voluntary survey among its members that shows them supporting Romney over Obama by a greater than 2-to-1 margin. But the newspaper’s subscribers are older and more senior in rank than the military as a whole, and the fact that it’s a self-selected sample can further distort its findings.

Indeed, there has been a conservative drift among U.S. military officers since the draft ended. In a 2009 survey of 4,000 Army officers, Heidi Urben, an active-duty officer and doctoral candidate at Georgetown University, found that between 1976 and 1996, the share of senior military officers identifying itself as Republican jumped from one-third to two-thirds, while those claiming to be moderates fell from 46% to 22%.

Senior military officers who described themselves as liberal fell from 16% in 1976 to 3% in 1996. Urben found that younger officers leaving the Army were far more likely to identify themselves as Democrats than those opting to stay, which would tend to make the more senior ranks increasingly Republican.

“Past surveys have shown senior military officers to generally be conservative and identify with the Republican Party, a trend which has solidified with the advent and professionalism of the all-volunteer force,” Urben wrote in her 2010 dissertation. “Meanwhile, recent surveys suggest that the officer corps is more likely to be conservative and Republican than most enlisted Soldiers, an important distinction to keep in mind, considering enlisted Soldiers outnumber officers by four to one in the Army.”

A Pew survey released last year showed post-9/11 veterans’ political leanings are the reverse of the public they’re serving: 36% describe themselves as Republicans, and 21% as Democrats; 34% of the public said they were Democrats, and 23% Republican. Six in 10 vets say they’re more patriotic than the average American.

But there is conflicting evidence. The Center for Responsive Politics reported last month that self-described military personnel had donated $678,611 to Obama, 85% more than the $398,450 the Romney campaign has collected.

Back to that sergeant who has just returned from Afghanistan. While the troops are split over who they’re supporting for president, he says, they’re united on one thing: they’re upset that neither their current commander-in-chief, nor his prospective replacement, ever served a day in a U.S. military uniform. “That,” he says with a pained expression on his dogface, “is something they agree on.”

51 comments
MarkGrigoriev
MarkGrigoriev

THIS ARTICLE DID NOT MENTION THAT RON PAUL GOT MORE DONATIONS THAN OBAMA!!! THEY MENTIONED OBAMA GETTING MORE THAN MITT ROMNEY, BUT THEY FAILED TO MENTION THAT RON PAUL GOT MORE THAN OBAMA.  AND WHAT PARTY IS RON PAUL? THATS RIGHT REPUBLICAN (WITH LIBERTARIAN LEANING VIEWS)

vprekazi9
vprekazi9

On behalf of Kosovo, we are very thankful for all our ally, the USA has done for us in terms of politics and military. Without the US  who knows how high tensions would be in Kosovo even 13 years after the wars of Yugoslavia. Seriously, it doesn't matter if Romney or Obama win, at the end of the day America will always be the best country in the world.  Much respect from your ally the Albanians :)

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

President Barack Obama and Republican challenger Mitt Romney are within one percentage point of each other in Gallup's final pre-election survey of likely voters, with Romney holding 49% of the vote and Obama 48%.  

Read more at GALLUP.com.

armynod
armynod

Hawks supporting hawks.  No surprise.  DOD contractors have politicians in their pocket and the best way to justify Military spending is to be at war.

superlogi
superlogi

Tilts?  Let me ask you something Marky.  Have you ever been a member of the military?  Yeah, that's what I thought.  In that last poll taken by the Military Times that I viewed (January 2005 or 2006), a whopping 8% considered themselves liberal (actually that number seems a bit high to me, but I'll except it) over 50% conservative, 13% Democrat and 57% Republican.  Tilt?  Yeah, I guess you could say not just tilt but capsize.

bauserdotcom
bauserdotcom

I sorta suspect that the "pro-Republican bias" everybody sees among the military is really a "pro-veteran bias." This is this first election since the 1980s where neither major party has a candidate with military experience, and that might cost the GOP some votes they've been taking for granted.

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

Mark,

 Nice spin.

As a Veteran, who knows many other Veterans,  my personal experience has been that the vast majority of Vets are conservative and have  little use for Liberals or their politics.

I served as an enlisted man and most of my Vet friends were also from the enlisted ranks and not officers.

All the Liberal Spin in the world is not going to help Obama. Romney will win with over 300 Electoral Votes and all you Liberals can return to the desert for another 40 years.

tigerlong1938
tigerlong1938

So, whatever became of the Hatch Act that prohibits members of our own US Military from engaging in partisan political activity?

sacredh
sacredh

Most of the guys I work with are ex-military. They're about evenly divided. The conservatives are much more vocal about their politics, but less likely to vote.

whiteveils1
whiteveils1

The peer pressure at military academies is atrocious.  One brother knew a young man at Annapolis who was bullied into a suicide attempt because of his political views.  That brother went to the Academy a year after he had campaigned for Jesse Jackson for president, and came back very different.  Another brother that went underwent a similar transformation in just a few months....and his reasoning was all about how Clinton had dishonored the service by his affair with Lewinsky.  No recollection of policies or anything...that didn't matter.  It was actually eerie.

carotexas
carotexas

The young soldiers seem to like the President when he does the rope line.  I also see officers taking photographs and wanting to shake his hand.

Might it be possible that the Republicans might be losing this automatic military vote?

UMMLocal12
UMMLocal12

The military is quite diverse, although a Republican tendency among officers is undeniable.  Still, there are plenty of officers who vote independent or democrat.  Among both officers and enlisted there are large numbers of blacks, hispanics and women, all of whom are frequently moved by the same considerations that motivate civilians with similar characteristics.

romillerjr
romillerjr

Interesting slant.  I'm a vet (Staff Sargent) and would only make the observation that in my experience the officers are strongly conservative, the NCOs a little less so.  The enlisted ranks are mostly young and still learning the trade of being a soldier so, may be more liberal, but much less likely to care about voting.  Generally the older a professional soldier gets the more conservative his views become.  Winston Churchill said several times that "if you are not liberal at 20 you have no heart - but - if you are not conservative at 40 you have no brain.  The military mirrors that.

kbanginmotown
kbanginmotown

Going through the list of vets I know, I'm at about 20R to 0D. Then again, my R friends are more vocal about their politics...

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

What gets overlooked is the fact that many older, higher pay grade officers have aspirations to become defense contractor lobbyists once they retire. Naturally they would favor the party that has done so much to line the coffers of their future employers.

Pollopa
Pollopa

Not to mention that Obama at least has some empathy for the vets and their families having family that served. Also, Biden the same having a son serving currently. Neither Romney nor Ryan have any family that have served.

Obama speaks of the service our forces have provided in most speaches, and his respect for them  The wives of Obama/Biden work vigorously with vet families to improve their lives. Obama put forth a bill and got it approved through congress on the support of vet hiring, Obama/Biden have ended the war in Iraq, and are ending the one in Afghanistan to bring our forces home to their country and families. In our area I know that the VA has opened more access to my friends and family so they do not have to travel as far for their health needs.  Romney not so much of anything... oh yeah his son is doing a residency in a VA hospital.

NP042
NP042

@73yearoldVet Vets and old, I wonder which is the prevalent predictor of political lean.

You should look up the definition of confounding variable.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@73yearoldVet 

"Romney will win with over 300 Electoral Votes and all you Liberals can return to the desert for another 40 years."

Gee I wonder what that's a reference to.  Flagged.

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

@romillerjr  

Churchill was very wise. Wisdom is a combination or experience and education. The older a person is the more real world wisdom they tend to possess.

The problem with youth is that "they don't know what they don't know".

nhautamaki
nhautamaki

Churchill's definition of 'conservative' is a lot different from modern day Republican policies, unfortunately.

forgottenlord
forgottenlord

@mantisdragon91 Not to mention, they might favor the side that gives them cooler toys to play with while they're in the forces.

And they might favor the guys who aren't going to cut jobs for career soldiers.

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

@mantisdragon91 @73yearoldVet  

I spent 2 years at PAX River Naval Air Station in Maryland near DC. I than served 2 years on the USS Forrestal the first of the super aircraft carriers. While on the Forrestal we did 2 six month tours in the Mediterranean Sea [Southern Europe].

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

@nhautamaki 

"Churchill's definition of 'conservative' is a lot different from modern day Republican policies, unfortunately".

Not true. Only a liberal would try to make that case. Kind of like the saying "figures don't lie but liars use figures".

mantisdragon91
mantisdragon91

@73yearoldVet @mantisdragon91 Really troll? Where do you think the defense contractors recruit their lobbyists from? The same lobbyists by the way, many of who are current members of Romney's Military Defense Advisory Board.

bufedog
bufedog

@forgottenlord @mantisdragon91 Unfortunately, the facts differ. The biggest determinate of whether a politician will vote for defense spending is whether it benefits his district, not his political party.

73yearoldVet
73yearoldVet

@MrObvious @73yearoldVet  

I have the respect where it counts from a large majority of Americans. I could care less if any of you looney lefts respect me. 

MrObvious
MrObvious

@73yearoldVet

Not that I'd love to get in between yours and mantis shit sandwich and I always respect my elders, but I also know that you have to deserve respect. And you've been around long enough that you lost that respect and try very hard not to regain it.

MrObvious
MrObvious

@73yearoldVet

Not true. Only a liberal would try to make that case. Kind of like the saying "figures don't lie but liars use figures".

Really, care to list any of Churchill's policies that are similar to todays GOP? And seriously, that expression in this context is an awful analogy.

DonQuixotic
DonQuixotic

@73yearoldVet @mantisdragon91 

It's not an opinion.  Go to any defense related Association or Lobbyist firm and you'll find a retired General, Admiral or Colonel at the helm.