President Barack Obama is working hard to shore up his liberal political base, but military voters may be less likely to lend support for his re-election. According to the 2011 Military Times Poll of active-duty subscribers, confidence in the overall job performance of the Commander-in-Chief has plummeted from 70% to 25%. The steep decline was illustrated with a multi-color bar graph on a page 10 of the September 19, 2011, Navy Times print edition, and in a secondary link in the web-posted article available to non-subscribers, titled “A Souring Mood.”
The 2011 annual poll published in different service versions of the Gannet-owned Military Times indicated that weariness with the current long war is a major reason for slumping morale. Ten years after the post-9/11 war in Afghanistan began, many troops are losing confidence in the mission there. Approval of the president’s handling of Afghanistan has slipped from 47% to 26%.
Military Times polls in previous years have generally found evidence of fairly high morale. But in 2011, several indicators showed a hard turn downward. For example, the percentage of active-duty troops who would recommend a military career to others was 76%, but that number is 9 points lower than it was only one year ago. (Army Times editorial, Sept. 19, 2011)
The Times further noted, “Slightly less than half of readers said the U.S. is ‘very likely’ or ‘somewhat likely’ to succeed in Afghanistan.” Support is even lower among troops who have deployed in Operation Enduring Freedom−significantly less than the 75% level in 2007, four years ago.
A general question about the repeal of the 1993 law regarding gays in the military registered less opposition than in previous years, but support remains less than 50%, except in the Navy. (According to Roper, poll respondents are more likely to approve of a policy already in place.) A subsequent online poll, however, revealed some unease with the new policy in personal relationships. (Air Force Times, Oct. 24, p. 8)
Military Times asked readers on active duty if the official repeal of the 1993 law (mislabeled “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”) had any effect on their unit or workplace. Most of the 4,818 respondents (69%) had no experience with the repeal in their unit. But of the 31% indicating that someone did “come out,” 5% reported no increased tension, but five times as many (26%) said that it did create tension. Looking at the same numbers, Navy Commander Wayne L. Johnson, JAGC, (Ret.) has noted that in those units where someone did come out, tension was created 84% of the time. (26% of 31% represents 84% of the group of respondents who said that someone came out in their unit. )
In the year 2000 military voters were thought to be eight times more likely to vote for then-Texas Governor George W. Bush than for Vice President Al Gore. In that year, contested absentee ballots in Florida, mostly from military voters, probably saved the election of George W. Bush.
In 2008, the advantage of Republican nominee Sen. John McCain was only three times stronger among military voters polled by the Military Times, (68%-23%). That level of support was significant, but not enough to help McCain win the election.
Social issues that affect the unique culture of the military are matters of national security that all candidates should address in 2012. The next Commander-in-Chief must earn respect and more than dutiful obedience from men and women who volunteer to serve.