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June 20, 2006

Update: Military Social Conservatives

Let's hear it for MP's readers.  Both in comments and via email, I have heard from political scientists pointing to much better sources of data on military attitudes than what I cited yesterday.  These confirm that, contrary to Peggy Noonan's speculation, U.S. military officers are more Republican and conservative than the general population and their conservatism extends to social and domestic policy.   The best known studies largely pertain to elite military officers.  A more recent effort indicates that the larger pool of regular enlisted personnel may not be quite so Republican or conservative. 

Two MP readers, political scientists Richard Eichenberg and Paul Gronke, both left comments on yesterday's post pointing to articles based on a series of surveys of "military elite" conducted by sampling individuals found in directories such as Who's Who or senior Pentagon officials whose names appeared in the Congressional Directory.  These were conducted by the Foreign Policy Leadership Project (FPLP) under the direction of Professors Ole R. Holsti of Duke and James Rosenau of Princeton.  These were reviewed in an article by Holsti in the journal International Security ("A Widening Gap between the U.S. Military and Civilian Society?: Some Evidence, 1976-96," available online to those with access to the JSTOR archive). 

Another survey conducted in 1998 and 1999 by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS) replicated the FPLP sample design.  According to Gronke, a report on that data appears in Feaver and Kohn, "Soldiers and Civilians" and also in Gronke's early version of his own paper from that volume. Here is the bottom line, according to Gronke's comment:

Put simply: the military elite (this was NOT a rank and file survey) are more socially conservative, more religious, and more Republican than the public at large, and even more so than civilian elites.

I'm not sure [which] career military folks Peggy Noonan has talked to about social issues--likely those who have advanced sufficiently to be sufficiently politically astute as to not advertise their views--but her claim is not supported by any of the research that I am familiar with.

Alert reader JS also passes along a more recent survey conducted by an assistant professor at West Point named Jason Dempsey.   Unlike FPLP and TISS, Dempsey surveyed a representative sample of the entire U.S. Army, both officers and enlisted soldiers. 

Dempsy has co-authored a paper on the study with Columbia Professor Robert Y. Shapiro that is not yet published but was presented at a March conference.  That paper indicates that enlisted personnel are significantly less conservative and Republican than their officers.  As the authors consider the paper "pre-publication," I am honoring their request not to quote from it, but I contacted Dempsy via email and he has promised to pass along his comments.  I will update this post with those comments when I receive them. 

Related Entries - Polls in the News

Posted by Mark Blumenthal on June 20, 2006 at 04:13 PM in Polls in the News | Permalink


It will be interesting to see the Dempsy and Shapiro piece. The preview provided by Mark should not be a huge surprise; compared to officers, rank and file military are more minority; are from lower income and education categories; and are more likely to have joined for economic rather than ideological reasons.

Today's military is a fascinating laboratory for studying public opinion and opinion change.

- The military is all volunteer. Individuals self select into military service. What sort of individual joins? Is the motivation patriotic? Economic? Some combination?

- Are there systematic differences between the officer's corps and the rank and file (answer YES)? Are these primarily demographic, attitudinal, or both?

- What role does the military itself play in socializing and acculturating its members? Do attitudes shift as one spends a longer period in service?

These issues bear on civil military control (Feaver and Kohn's research), on issues of unit cohesion (Moskos's research). The military itself conducts research (they are especially concerned with job satisfaction and retention, particularly among the Guard and Reserves), but I don't think they release the data.

Posted by: Paul Gronke | Jun 20, 2006 8:23:25 PM

Why should we be surprised that a Republican like Peggy Noonan would lie to suit her agenda? That's what Republicans do best. Good work in exposing her lies.

Posted by: Aaron | Jun 21, 2006 10:07:24 AM

Having walked and worked for a Democratic candidate in precincts outside Ft. Lewis, Washington (right south of Tacoma) with a high number of active duty and military families, I didn't find them very different from many other working families in other parts of the country. We were supporting a union member-and military wife -running for the Legislature in what had been a safe GOP seat. (Not many foreign policy/DOD issues at play) She was close, but didn't make it in 2000, but won when she ran the 2nd time.So military rank and file voters are much more like their civilian counterparts when it comes to state and local government officials. For that matter, the DeLay Texas gerrymander removed Ft Hood voters from Rep. Chet Edwards Congressional District because the military voters there were too pro-Democratic.

Posted by: Skip Roberts | Jun 21, 2006 3:19:17 PM

Rank-and-file military are probably the most representative subset of the broader general population. Not just for demographic or attitudinal reasons, but because many of the pressures on working families manifest themselves more acutely on military members who change locations frequently, suffer extended parental absences, contend in many cases with inadequate medical benefits, seek training to improve skills and advance economically and professionally, etc. A good microcosm of social change and its effects on ordinary US families in the 21c.

Posted by: thibaud | Jun 27, 2006 4:23:36 PM

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