Does Romney have a Military Problem?

by Joshua Tucker on February 8, 2012 · 7 comments

in Campaigns and elections

Monkey Cage reader Michael Moschella writes in with the following interesting observation in light of last night’s bad night for Mitt Romney:

El Paso County is home to Colorado Springs and a top “military bastion” county in America. According to Wikipedia, El Paso County’s population surpassed Denver County in 2010, making it the most populous county in CO. The last Democrat to win it was LBJ.

So why does this matter? I think its noteworthy that Rick Santorum won El Paso County last night by a 16 point margin, 47-31, greatly outperforming his narrow victory in the rest of the state.

The next results will come from Maine, Michigan and Arizona. I’ll be checking to see if this trend continues in heavily military communities like Sagadahoc County Maine, home of the Bath Naval shipyard. Maine’s veteran population is 138K out of a total of 1.3 million citizens, and according to ME State Rep Alex Cornell du Houx, the veteran share of the overall vote is 17%. I imagine this will be even higher in the Republican primary.

If it does continue, this could pose a pretty big problem for Romney on Super Tuesday, with major military communities in VA, OH, OK, and GA expected to play a significant role in the Republican primary vote totals.

I’m not aware of polls that have reported on Romney’s support in the military; if anyone else is, please do note what they’ve found in the comments section. I also wonder what the implications of this might be for the general election. Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, and perhaps even Arizona may be very important in the fall. If part of the concern among Republicans with Romney is that he might lead to diminished enthusiasm in the fall among key Republican constituencies (e.g., Tea Party, strong conservatives, evangelicals), more evidence along the lines Michael has presented might raise the question of whether we want to include the military on this list as well.

{ 7 comments }

Laurel Harbridge February 8, 2012 at 11:07 am

The support for Santorum over Romney in Colorado Springs may not be about military families, but about the broader fact that the Colorado Springs area is socially conservative. It’s a more evangelical area and is home of Focus on the Family.

Jeremy Teigen February 8, 2012 at 11:54 am

A fifth of the South Carolina GOP primary voters reported being a veteran, and vets were +5% over nonvets for Romney. The other GOP candidates in the race were all equivalent between vets and nonvets. As others have noted, when Ron Paul’s military service stands as the most decorated among the GOP field, something has changed in the party.

Casey Klofstad February 8, 2012 at 12:26 pm

In reading this I thought of this 2008 Monkey Cage post:

http://themonkeycage.org/blog/2008/04/15/the_political_behavior_of_vete/

It seems that the influence of veteran status on vote choice can be explained away by other factors. But, who’s to say that won’t change in 2012.

Brian Arbour February 8, 2012 at 1:23 pm

FYI–South Carolina is the only state where the exit/entrance poll has asked about veteran status, so Jeremy Teigen’s discussion of that above is the only data point that we have.

My understanding is that Colorado Springs is far and away the most conservative area of Colorado. So maybe Romney’s showing there is a reflection of a conservative problem, which is replicated across other conservative areas in the state.

Joshua Tucker February 8, 2012 at 1:50 pm

There’s another issue here which was raised in an off-blog comment, which is the question of what proportion of soldiers living on a base actually vote in the state where the base is located, as opposed to in their home state. Does anyone have data on that question?

Jim Golby February 8, 2012 at 4:04 pm

I don’t have data on the subject, but the proportion of soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines who vote on or near their bases is fairly low. Since the end of the Vietnam War, the Department of Defense has implemented major voter registration programs that enable service members the ability to vote absentee fairly easily. Since they also move frequently, service members typically vote in their home state of record. In either case, there are only approximately 1.5 million people on active duty in the U.S. military; however, there are almost 22 million veterans across the U.S. with concentrations of retirees around many military installations.

Buddy Peyton February 8, 2012 at 3:21 pm

I have to agree with Laurel Harbridge, the Colorado Springs area has a high concentration of conservative evangelical Christians. This is more likely to be an explanation for Romney’s poor showing in that county.

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