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Monday, May 30, 2011

Public Opinion and the Military

At the Los Angeles Times, Karlyn Bowman and Andrew Rugg report on attitudes toward the military:

In poll after poll, the military and its leaders get high marks. That isn't true in many places around the world, where the military is often associated with corruption and brutality and has lost the trust of its citizenry. Americans consistently rank the U.S. military higher than almost any other institution. In a recent Gallup poll that examined confidence in 16 different American institutions, 76% said they had a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military. By comparison, 20% expressed high confidence in organized labor, and 19% in big business. Congress was the most poorly ranked institution, with only 11% of respondents expressing high confidence in the body. In another poll, this one by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago, 75% of respondents said they were "very proud" of America's armed forces, the highest mark in the poll.

One reason for this prestige relates to a central theme of our book: there is more to American life than self-interest.

Big business, big labor and politicians are also seen as self-interested, while the military is not. Nearly two-thirds of the participants in a Kaiser/Harvard/Washington Post poll last year agreed with the statement that "government is pretty much run by a few big interests looking out for themselves." Barely 3 in 10 said it was run for the benefit of all the people. In recent years, 6 in 10 have told Harris Interactive pollsters that Wall Street is dominated by greed and selfishness. Hardly anyone would express these sentiments about the men and women in uniform.
Gallup reports that people who have worn the uniform have distinct opinions: "Thirty-seven percent of all active-duty military personnel and veterans surveyed approved of the job Obama is doing during the January 2010 to April 2011 time frame. That compares with 48% of nonveterans interviewed during the same period."

Gallup also finds that active-duty personnel are more likely than other groups to report that they have no opinion of the president's performance.

There are several possible explanations for this finding. Those on active duty may in general be less involved in politics and current affairs and thus less likely to hold an opinion on Obama or other political matters. Or, it could be that members of the active-duty military are adhering to a general nonpartisan norm within the military culture, and are therefore less willing to express an opinion to a survey interviewer, regardless of what they may actually believe.

And it finds different patterns of service:

The basic pattern of military service among Americans is remarkably -- albeit not surprisingly -- differentiated by age and gender. Across all age groups, most active-duty military personnel and veterans are men. For American men under age 60, the percentage who have served or currently serve in the military ranges from 8% in the youngest age group to 21% of those aged 50 to 59. The percentage of military veterans is much greater among those 60 and older, reaching a peak of 75% among men aged 80 to 99.