I tweeted the link to this Military Times poll out earlier and got a variety of responses — “fake news!”, “MT is a liberal outlet,” anecdotal accounts from people with relatives in the service that support for Trump is sky high in the ranks, etc. Fair enough, but their results have been consistent over the span of a year. In 2016 they found a 46/37 split among soldiers on Trump’s favorability. The split today is 44/40.
The overall number isn’t the interesting one, though. The interesting one is the divide between enlisted personnel and officers. The former view Trump favorably, 47/37, while the latter view him very unfavorably at 31/53. “I never thought that you would have a disparity in the numbers like that,” said one retired Air Force colonel of the gap to MT. What’s driving it? Servicemen spitballed a few theories:
“Enlisted people like a man who says what he means and would like to see the job done, no frills, no questions asked,” [retired Sgt. Joseph] Lobban said. “From the way President Trump has presented himself, he has been that kind of person.”…
The Trump White House “seems extremely reactionary, verging on whimsical, when it comes to matters of international politics,” [a] Navy lieutenant said.
“They are also creating unnecessary division domestically and revisiting political battles that have already been settled and accepted, such as reinstating the transgender military ban.
“It causes so much upheaval, stress and wasted resources, and has a real impact on morale at the deckplate level.”
The retired Air Force colonel told MT he thought the source of the divide was Trump’s unpredictability and the challenge it poses to the chain of command. If you’re an officer, you want a chain-of-command that’s rigid and strictly followed; if you’re enlisted, maybe you prefer a little more freedom to maneuver, as the president seems to enjoy.
But there’s probably another contributing factor to the enlisted/officer divide. Servicemen and women aren’t that different from civilians in their political preferences, at least in terms of how their ideology tracks with demographics. Trump did much better with men last November than with women; in the MT poll, servicemen were more likely to view him favorably (47 percent) than servicewomen were (32 percent). Trump also did much better with whites than blacks against Clinton. Likewise, nonwhite service members are more likely to view him unfavorably (51 percent) than white service members are (37 percent). Importantly, education level was also a key divide last fall. Clinton won college grads by 10 points but Trump won voters without a college degree by seven. Among whites without a college degree, he won by 37 points(!). There’s an educational divide in the military too between officers and enlisted troops. According to Pew:
Fewer than 10 percent of active-duty enlisted troops have a B.A. Nearly all active-duty officers have a B.A. at least. To some extent the same reaction to Trump that drove most civilian college grads to vote Clinton last fall may be driving most military officers to view him unfavorably. Although, even so, the numbers are still surprising: At 31 percent, his favorable rating among military officers is eight points lower than it is among the overall U.S. population. I’d never expect a Republican president consumed with military strength to be doing that badly with the officer corps. Either the poll’s screwy or a lot of officers have joined the Bob Corker “I’m not sure this guy is stable” school of Trump jitters.
Oh, and as for the four branches, Trump is least popular among the Navy (40/49) and most popular among the Marines (59/17). One veteran speculated to MT that that’s because Marines tend to come from more conservative parts of the country, but the fact that the two most powerful members of Trump’s inner circle are both retired Marine generals must have something to do with it also. What Marine wouldn’t appreciate a president who puts James Mattis in charge of Defense and makes John Kelly his chief of staff?
Of note: This poll was conducted last month, before the ugly back and forth over Trump’s condolence call to Sgt. La David Johnson’s widow. Who knows what that’ll do to Trump’s numbers among soldiers, if anything. Here’s Don Lemon on CNN last night getting weepy over the whole thing.