I suppose I’m one of those people who has long subscribed to the idea that the United States military, while not 100% monolithic, was composed primarily of those who tended to lean toward the conservative side of the aisle, if not actually registered Republicans. I suppose that goes back to my own time in the service when it certainly seemed to be a prevalent attitude in the enlisted circles I traveled in. There’s also an understandable perception that those who are willing to put their lives on the line for their country would likely be strong on national security issues, traditionally a GOP strong point. Further, even in modern social media, the more prevalent “mil-blogger” voices you tend to see are conservatives. (Granted, that’s purely anecdotal from my own perception.)
But now, (via OTB) some research from a view years ago compiled by political scientists Jason Dempsey and Bob Shapiro seems to indicate it’s more of an even split similar to the civilian population at large than I would have suspected.
It is true that the upper echelons of the military tilt right. My own research confirmed that about two-thirds of majors and higher-ranking officers identify as conservative, as previous studies found. But that tilt becomes far less pronounced when you expand the pool of respondents. That is because only 32 percent of the Army’s enlisted soldiers consider themselves conservative, while 23 percent identify as liberal and the remaining 45 percent are self-described moderates. These numbers closely mirror the ideological predilections of the civilian population
Dr. James Joyner sums up the contributing factors and how much of a difference the military vote may make in elections.
1. The military, and especially its senior officers, are more Republican and conservative than the country as a whole. But the extent of this is grossly exaggerated, because the media naturally focuses on the attitudes of the officer corps, particularly more senior officers.
2. These differences are almost entirely explainable by the demographic makeup of the military, which is self-selected.
3. As with the rest of the country, the younger cohorts of the military–including its officer corps–are less Republican and less conservative. See, for example, the enormous swings in attitudes on gays in the military over the last 20 years.
4. The notion that the “military vote” plays a major role in choosing our presidents is vastly overstated. In addition to the issues Lawrence notes, a third of the states essentially disenfranchise military personnel by mailing absentee ballots too late. The caveat is that, because a disproportionate number of military personnel claim Florida as their home of record in order to avoid paying state income taxes, they could potentially serve as a decisive swing vote in an incredibly close contest along the lines of the 2000 election. Those are, of course, quite uncommon.
I suppose all of that makes sense. Demographics do tend to shift from one generation to the next, and there’s no reason that the military would be exempt from this. What would be more interesting would be to see if similar studies were ever conducted in the past and compare some snapshots from the forties, the sixties, the eighties and today. But another factor not mentioned here might be that no matter which party controls the White House, you don’t tend to see the members of the military running around criticizing the administration in public. This comes from generations of training which teach them not to run around trash talking the chain of command, including the very top of it.