Voting Behavior of US Military Personnel

In a post earlier this week, I asked whether anyone had conducted research regarding the voting behavior of US military personnel. Major Jim Golby, an Instructor in the Department of Social Science at the United States Military Academy at West Point and a Stanford Ph.D., kindly sent along the following response. Please be aware that these views are Jim’s and do not reflect the position of the United States Military Academy, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

To my knowledge, there are no current polls about military preferences for the GOP candidates. There are a few unscientific polls done by a newspaper, The Military Times, that measure military approval of the president, but that is it. They show approval for president Obama within the military at around 25%.

I have done some research in this field, however [paper available here]. One of the main take-aways from my research is that Republican officers in the military and elite veterans are no different, on average, than Republican civilian elites once we control for demographic factors. Although my work focuses on senior officers and veterans, Jason Dempsey’s book, Our Army, and Jeremy Teigen’s paper support this general claim for soldiers and veterans, respectively.

I find one exception, however: military officers are marginally more conservative than civilian Republicans on social issues. This may bode well for Santorum v. Romney, but there is no evidence suggesting that any GOP nominee would have trouble winning the ‘military vote’ since there really is no such thing. There are not many Democrats in the military and there are even fewer liberals in the ranks; in general, most Democrats in the military are moderate or conservative Democrats (especially in the higher ranks).

There is one other small point to note. Although Ron Paul’s campaign has claimed to have the overwhelming support of military personnel over the last few months, there is not much evidence to support that view at this point. The last time I checked on the FEC database, around 500 military folks (active duty and retired) had contributed a little over $100,000 to Paul’s campaign, out of approximately 22 million veterans and 1.5 million service members. Paul has, in fact, received more contributions from people associated with the military than have other GOP candidates, but those contributors are not necessarily representative of the military as a whole. The low levels of participation among members of the military seen here also is consistent with the research of my colleague here at West Point, Heidi Urben, who finds that – with the exception of voting – members of the Army participate in domestic politics at very low rates.

Jim’s paper is available here.

One Response to Voting Behavior of US Military Personnel

  1. Chris Lawrence February 10, 2012 at 11:26 am #

    I’d caution against conflating officers and enlisted personnel; officers do tend to be overwhelmingly Republican, but NCOs and lower enlisted are much more mixed in partisanship and ideology, although also much less likely to vote, particularly in the E-1-4 ranks, probably in large part due to age. As Jim suggests probably a large part of the differences between the military and the public at large are due to ethnicity, SES, and region (the officer corps of the Army and Air Force, at least, tend to be substantially more southern than the public at large).

    As far as the “military vote” might go, given the relatively small size of the officer corps and their lack of political organization or geographic concentration (military people, including their spouses and other dependents, tend to retain residency in their hometowns rather than registering to vote locally when reassigned, so even “military towns” will have few active-duty military/dependent voters), I doubt it could ever be all that influential even if their turnout was much higher.

    That said these are basically anecdotal observations from an Air Force brat.