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Veterans' Voting Patterns Can Defy Stereotypes

By Dave Eberhart   |   Tuesday, 11 Nov 2008 12:10 PM

U.S. veterans are currently 24 million strong and they can and do speak loudly at the polls — just don’t try and pin them down to stereotypes, concludes an American Enterprise Institute senior fellow.

Karlyn Bowman notes that just being a candidate who happens to be a military hero doesn’t necessarily translate into grabbing the unswerving allegiance of this intriguing and sometimes inscrutable block of voters.

In 2004, for instance, veterans voted a whopping 54 percent for the hawkish but always stateside-bound Air Guard pilot George Bush — while cranking the lever for Navy Vietnam vet and Silver Star winner John Kerry to the tune of just 4 percent.

By startling contrast in 2008, 54 percent of our electorate of vets went for war hero John McCain — while the anti-Iraq War, never-served-in-uniform Barack Obama still managed to attract an impressive 45 percent.

Although hardly an eye-popping statistic, our vets turned out to be among McCain’s best demographics.

So just who are these voting vets that we honor on Veterans Day?

According to Bowman’s compiled research from many quarters:

  • They are older on average among registered voters by some 11 years.

  • They are twice as likely to be senior citizens than nonveterans.

  • Ninety-one percent are men.

  • Seventy-four percent of veterans report voting compared to 63 percent of nonveterans.

  • Sixteen percent of all voters this year were veterans.

    Bowman notes especially one researcher whose finding is that military politics are “more complex” than one might think.

    Jason Dempsey, an army officer with the elite 10th Mountain Division, conducted his own survey in 2004 — with the help of social scientist Robert Shapiro of Columbia University.

    Uniquely, the team sampled Army enlisted and then compared and contrasted the leaning of that group with junior officers and senior officers. The surprise finding: While the upper ranks of the military lean heavily conservative, enlisted personnel look much more like the population as a whole.

    About a third of the military members in the Dempsey-Shapiro survey considered themselves conservative, 45 percent moderates and 23 percent liberal. (Makes one wonder how exactly liberal Obama snared his 45 percent in 2008.)

    In any event, the leavening effect of the young junior enlisted men and women apparently works to sort of normalize what should be at first glance a special group of the electorate.

    “On Election Day this year,” explains Bowman, “the self-reported identifications of voters [generally] mirrored those results almost perfectly: 34 percent called themselves conservative, 44 percent moderate and 22 percent liberal.”

    A recent Military Times survey, however, polled thousands of current and former military subscribers to the Army, Navy, Marine Corps and Air Force Times.

    Keeping in mind that the sample turned out to be older than the military as a whole and contained a higher percentage of officers than is the actual case, the Military Times reported that those surveyed supported McCain over Barack Obama by significant margins.

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