Everyone wants to know who the military will vote for this year, both because of the way their votes will affect swing-state outcomes and because of the way military opinion may shape the opinions of their friends and families. Esther Schrader covers that subject pretty well in this L.A. Times article
discussing the recent National Annenberg Election Survey conducted by the University of Pennsylvania
But in addition to the election-oriented questions, there were some other answers that piqued my interest. Here are a few from Ms. Schrader's story:
Of 655 respondents surveyed in every state, 56% of service members and 64% of military family members said too much of the weight of fighting the war had been put on the Guard and Reserve when active duty forces should have been expanded instead.These statistics are staggering.
Only 38% of respondents said that reserve forces had been properly trained and equipped for the mission. Forty-two percent said they had not.
The respondents also overwhelmingly disagreed with the Pentagon policy of barring photographs of flag-draped coffins being returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Fifty-one percent of the military sample said allowing photographs would increase respect for the sacrifices made by the military. Only 8% said it would reduce respect.
The respondents insisted on punishment tor those involved with abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib. Fifty percent said higher-level commanders in Iraq should be punished, and 29% said civilians in the Pentagon should be punished.
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Only 30% said they thought veterans were getting the health care they had been promised. And while 57% said that Pentagon-ordered extensions of service beyond enlistment dates were proper, 39%, a significant minority, said they were not.
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The poll's findings on attitudes toward gays in the military also showed striking differences by rank. Commissioned officers and their families opposed their inclusion by 53% to 39%. Noncommissioned officers and their families were also clearly opposed, by a 57% to 35% margin.
But 50% of junior enlisted personnel said gays and lesbians should be allowed to serve openly, while 43% said they should not.
On the issue of women in the service, once divisive, the military sample overwhelmingly approved of the work of women in the armed forces. Seventy-four percent said they performed as well as the men they served with, 10% said they did worse than men, and 7% said they did better than men.
For one thing, it's really hard to conduct opinion surveys of the military, because the Pentagon doesn't generally allow it lest the military get too wrapped up in electioneering or political activity. The Military Times organization recently conducted a survey of its readership, but that generally included military professionals and too few junior enlisted personnel. Sometimes, you can conduct a survey of Fayetteville N.C. or Killeen TX and get a fairly military-oriented sample. But in general, it's really hard to get these kinds of numbers. So, these are very significant, because they give us a glimpse into the military mind in a way that just doesn't happen very often.
What these numbers tell me is that the military is far more
progressive and pragmatic than most politicians give it credit for. Take the stance on women and gays in uniform. Most people take it for granted that the military supports the ban on gays in uniform, and that most soldiers don't want women in the military. But ask any soldier who's been there and done that (and got the t-shirt), and he/she will tell you that what matters is getting the job done -- not who you are. Similarly, these soldiers also don't seem to care much for the Bush administration's approach to handling Abu Ghraib. Ask PFC Joe Snuffy, and he'll tell you that a few officers ought to be paying the price that SPC Sivits and other enlisted men are paying for those prison abuses. And the list goes on. The bottom line is that the military mind isn't what most people think it is.
The important thing to remember is that we have an all-volunteer military that is, in many ways, a cross-section of America. The caricature of a U.S. Army NCO applies in some cases; I certainly knew my share of truck-driving, tobacco-chewin', gun-totin', thrice-marryin', church-goin', GOP-votin', tough grizzled NCOs from the South. But for every one of those, I also knew a Puerto Rican NCO, a black NCO -- I even knew an NCO from New York with a graduate degree in computer science. Opinion surveys like this are useful, but to some extent, they tell us what we already know: that the U.S. military is a reflection of U.S. society, with all of its diversity and disagreements.