Study Shows How Younger Veterans Feel About Trump and GOP

According to new analysis published in Sociological Spectrum, while military veterans were more likely to be affiliated with the Democrat party throughout the 1970s and into the early 1990s, their affiliation is now in a state of flux. The study found that in more recent years, veterans lean more to the Republican party. Steven L. Foy and Salvatore J. Restifo, assistant professors of sociology at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, examined shifts in party affiliation among generations of veterans.

Shifting political affiliations in the military.

The report showed that among those who came of age before World War II, 55.4 percent identified as Democrats, 38.3 percent identified as Republicans and 6.2 percent considered themselves Independents. Change began to be apparent among veterans who reached the age of 18 between 1972 and 2016. The study showed that about one third identified as Democratic. Just more than half said they were Republican, and 16.7 percent were Independent. “Our results suggest that the historical tendency for veterans to identify as Democrats is reversing course,” Foy and Restifo write. “In attempting to predict veteran political affiliation, we should consider veterans not as a monolithic group but rather as distinguished from one another in patterned and meaningful ways by cohort.”

For the study, the two researchers examined 18 years of data that the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center gathered through nationally representative surveys between 1974 and 2016. They focused on how men aged 18 and older answered questions about military service, political affiliation and their personal backgrounds. The scholars analyzed response data from a total of 10,251 people, 35 percent of whom were veterans.

Foy and Restifo excluded women because they make up such a small proportion of the veteran population — 2 percent as of 2013, according to the U.S. Department of Defense. Also, women have not been subject to compulsory military enlistment and possible conscription, which are factors the researchers considered as part of their analysis.

When they looked at the sample as a whole, they found that 49.8 percent of veterans identified as Democrats while 39.1 percent said they were Republican. The remaining 11.1 percent were Independents.

In comparison, men who were not veterans were slightly less likely to be Democrats. The breakdown: 47.8 percent Democrat, 38.2 percent Republican, 14 percent Independent.

When Foy and Restifo looked at military service and political affiliation over time, here’s what else they learned:

“From 1974 to 1991, the percentage of veterans identifying as Democratic remained relatively comparable to, if not higher than, the percentage of nonveterans identifying as Democratic — a trend that sits in stark contrast with common assumptions that veterans tend to disproportionately align and affiliate with the Republican Party.”

  • In 1993 and 1994, the proportion of veterans who identified as Democrats dropped significantly below the proportion of non-veterans who did. In 2012, Democratic identification rose among veterans but then dropped sharply over the next few years.
  • Increased affiliation with the Republican Party corresponds with the shift toward an all-volunteer army. The draft was eliminated in 1973.
  • There is no apparent link between party affiliation and the length of time a man served in the military.

According to exit polls conducted by CNN in November 2016, veterans voted at a 2-1 ratio for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. In battleground states Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio, a number of counties went for pulled for Trump at numbers higher than those John McCain and Mitt Romney candidates had over President Obama in 2008 and 2012. The Pew organization polled veterans in March 2017 and found that they were positive about the job he was doing. In April 2017, 54 percent of those who have served in the military approved of his job performance. Trump’s job approval among the overall public was just 39 percent at that time. Veterans represent approximately 7 percent of the total U.S. population and are thus an important group.

Both younger and older veterans gave higher approval ratings for Trump than did younger and older adults overall, according to the poll. Almost half of veterans ages 18 to 49 (46 percent) approved of Trump’s job performance, compared with only 31 percent of all adults younger than 50. Among those 50 and older, nearly six-in-ten veterans (58 percent) supported Trump, while about half of all older adults (49 percent) said the same.

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