Military More Republican, Conservative Than Public Poll
by Jim Lobe
two-thirds of the active-duty U.S. military approve of President
George W. Bush's overall performance, while the same percentage
of officers consider themselves Republicans, according to an unprecedented
poll released here Tuesday.
Times Poll, conducted by the publishers of the Army
Times and the independent newspapers of the three other major
services, also found that most of the active-duty military considers
itself very much a breed apart, morally superior to both US society
and its civilian leadership.
addition, the survey, which was based on 933 written responses to
a survey sent to 2,500 enlisted personnel and officers, found that
the overwhelming majority of those queried believe that US forces
are being stretched too thin by Bush's "war on terrorism"
and that only 56 percent believed the president was handling the
Iraq war well.
to the US public at large, the military considers itself clearly
more conservative and Republican, according to the survey, which
might be the first to measure the political and related beliefs
of a broad cross-section of active-duty enlisted personnel and officers
in the major services.
poll comes on the heels of "the
American soldier" being named Time Magazine's "person
of the year" and amid a still controversial military occupation
in Iraq that, combined with other recent deployments, has raised
serious questions about whether Washington needs to expand its 1.4
million-strong active-duty armed forces to keep pace with Bush's
fact that nearly 90 percent of the poll's respondents agreed that
"today's military is stretched too thin to be effective"
will undoubtedly tilt the debate in favor of those who support a
major expansion of at least two army divisions, even if it adds
significantly to the already unprecedented 500-billion-dollar federal
deficit projected for 2004.
under Bush's "anti-terrorism" war have already made the military
the most visible face of the United States across broad swathes
of territory throughout Eurasia and the Islamic world.
many areas, US troops are training their foreign counterparts, so
their own political attitudes might to some extent also affect the
opinions and attitudes of their students.
the US Armed Forces have prided themselves on being essentially
apolitical and fully responsive to civilian authority. When they
became an all-volunteer force after the draft ended in the early
1970s, many analysts expressed concern the military could become
increasingly divorced from the society that it was sworn to defend.
number of independent surveys were carried out in the mid to late-1990s
to assess racial and political attitudes in the services, but these
were confined mostly to in-depth interviews of officers attending
war colleges, rather than on a large sample chosen at random.
of those surveys raised new alarms about a growing civilian-military
gap in which military officers were found to be significantly more
conservative than their civilian counterparts, and self-described
"liberals," who had historically been well-represented in the
army in particular, had all but disappeared from all of the services.
the 2000 elections, the issue became particularly pertinent, as
Republicans fought hard to get all absentee military ballots counted
in Florida on the untested assumption that active-duty personnel
had voted overwhelmingly for Bush. Indeed, the absentee military
vote probably provided the winning margin for the president.
new Times survey, which was conducted in October and November
(before the capture of former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein), tends
to sustain that view, although the gap between the military and
the general public appears to be somewhat narrower than the earlier
studies had suggested.
recent polls show that roughly one-third of the public considers
itself Republican, 57 percent of the active-duty military identified
themselves with that party with two-thirds of officers, compared
to 49 percent of enlisted personnel, checking the Republican box.
to 32 percent of the civilian public who described themselves as
Democrats, only nine percent of military officers and 16 percent
of enlisted personnel did so. Twenty-nine percent of the military
respondents either said they were independent or declined to answer
for attitudes toward Bush, two-thirds of military respondents said
they approved of his overall performance as president, compared
to only 13 percent who disapproved of it.
contrast, 55 percent of civilians indicated approval and 43 percent
indicated disapproval, according to an August poll by Gallup. In
this case, too, a higher percentage of officers approved of Bush
(73 percent), than enlisted personnel (64 percent).
on Iraq, the military's attitude was much closer to civilians'.
Some 64 percent of soldiers said the situation in Iraq was worth
going to war over, compared to 59 percent of civilians who agreed
in a recent Gallup poll.
only 56 percent of the military said they approved of Bush's handling
of the war, compared to 50 percent of the general public.
military's) approval of Bush is noticeably stronger than their approval
of his handling of the war in Iraq," the Times' managing
editor, Robert Hodierne, told IPS.
makes me think their opinion of his Iraq policy is more fragile,"
he said, adding that some in the military would never denounce their
commander-in-chief, even if guaranteed anonymity.
stressed that the survey did not include members of the reserves
or the National Guard, who make up almost 30 percent of the soldiers
currently deployed to Iraq or its neighboring states.
of these two services, whose numbers also total about 1.4 million,
have tended to be far more critical of the Iraq deployment than
the full-time military.
said he believed that the sample was not a perfect cross-section,
even of active-duty personnel. "Our sample tends to be older, higher-ranking,
and longer in service," he said, noting these variables might also
contribute to a somewhat more Republican and conservative result.
other factors, the survey found that 53 percent of active-duty personnel
described themselves as either "very conservative" or "conservative,"
compared to 40 percent of the general population. By contrast, seven
percent said they were "liberal or very liberal," compared to
20 percent of the general population.
than two-thirds of respondents said women should serve in combat,
but of those one-half said they should do so only if they volunteer.
one in nine of the survey's respondents was female.
four out of five military personnel said they believed racial and
ethnic minorities are treated more fairly in the military than in
civilian life, while two-thirds said they believe members of the
US military have higher moral values than the civilian population.
to the state of moral values in the society at large, only two percent
said they were "excellent"; 35 percent "good"; and 62 percent
said either "only fair" or "poor."
survey found that active-duty personnel were somewhat more religiously
observant than the general population. About one-half said they
attend religious services at least once a month, compared to 37
percent of civilians.
polls have shown that the frequency of religious observance and
identification with Republicans was highly correlated.
Lobe is Inter Press Service's correspondent in Washington, DC.
© 2004 Inter Press Service