Who Will Win the Presidential Vote Among Veterans?

By Sam Pauken

The veteran vote will prove to be one of the important swing constituencies in the 2012 race and both campaigns. When recent polls showed some pretty significant differences in approval ratings for President Obama and Mitt Romney among veterans, we had to dig a little deeper to figure out what was going on.

 What do the polls say?

According to a recent Gallup poll released two weeks ago of 3,300 U.S. veterans, veterans favor Romney 58 percent to 34 percent. If you consider non-veterans though, both candidates are tied 46 percent to 46 percent.

A Reuters/Ipsos online poll of “Gen at war” individuals indicated different results.  This one states that post-Gulf War veterans and their families favor the President over Romney 44 percent to 37 percent, while non-veterans favored the President 42 percent to 35 percent.  These results are very similar when compared with those of all registered voters, with the President leading 45 percent to 39 percent.  (Reuters/Ipsos did not provide any analysis of their results.) 

What’s going on here?

The Gallup results may be linked to two factors.  As those in the military become socialized to military life and military views, they become more politically conservative.  Additionally, within the past decade, many of those who have enlisted are believed to have been Republican before enlisting.

Part of the disparity between these two polls is the samples are completely different.  The Gallup poll was a survey of veterans, regardless of which war(s) they served in, while the Reuters/Ipsos poll was of post-Gulf War veterans and non-veterans.  Both of the Reuters/Ipsos groups are from the “Gen at war” group, and there is no explanation in the poll report as to what this group is.  As demographics are far less diverse among post-Gulf War vets with respect to age, we can expect these polls to yield differing results.  Additionally, the vast majority of living veterans served in Vietnam, and older generations generally lean more conservative, explaining the overwhelming support for Romney over the President in the Gallup poll.

Although there is little or no data distinguishing active duty military personnel and veterans, there is a contrast in political views among officers and enlisted personnel.  Jason Dempsey, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Army and Bob Shapiro have done a fair amount of ground-breaking research into attitudes and trends in the military and offer some of the following analysis:

·      2/3rds of majors and other high-ranking officers describe themselves as conservative

·      32% of enlisted personnel are conservative

·      23% are liberal

·      45% are moderates

The data for all personnel closely resembles the spectrum of civilians.  This can be partially explained by the demographic divide, as officers are predominantly white and have a college education, while enlisted men have a higher proportion of minorities and generally only have a high school diploma.  People in these demographics generally align themselves with the Republican and Democratic Parties, respectively.  For example, with regards to the Army, many of today’s senior officers entered the army thirty to forty years ago.  During that time, the Republican Party was strong on national defense, while the Democratic Party was not.

What does this mean for the election?

As the Reuters/Ipsos poll only considers post-Gulf War families, it doesn’t make sense to contrast it with the Gallup, which considers all veterans. If anything, the Reuters poll would indicate that young military personnel and veterans would tend to vote for President Obama, which is expected from many people from younger generations.

In light of this, the results of the Gallup poll are not unreasonable. When one considers these older veterans from the Vietnam and Korean wars who are generally conservative, and compares them with today’s officers and young servicemen, the Gallup poll results are validated.

Given that the majority of the military and veterans support Romney instead of the current President and Commander-in-Chief, with a still-shaky economy, the President needs all the support he can get. Not having the support of the military and its veterans does not bode well for him.