Voting Veterans and How They Affect Elections
Americans might assume that all Veterans vote one way, regardless of the candidate or election year. Veterans do share similarities with civilian voters, but they are also a unique type of voter. So how have Veterans voted in the past? Some of the following facts and studies might surprise you.
A Lot of Veterans Vote
According to the United States Census Bureau, 70% of the more than 14 million Veterans voted in the 2012 presidential election. By comparison, the civilian voting rate was almost 61% in the same election. Veterans as a voting demographic represent one of the most active voting groups in the United States. Overall, former Armed Service Members make up 17% of American voters, according to the Washington Post.
Most Active Duty Military and Veterans Vote Conservative
A dissertation by Heidi Urben from Georgetown University found that over 60% of 4,000 active-duty United States Army officers identified as Republican (compared to the little more than 17% of Democrat-identified Army officers).
The older Veterans vote support Republicans by an average of 27 points, according to exit polls and the American National Election Studies. Nine out of ten are men, and half of them are over the age of 60. According to the Washington Post, male Veterans (regardless of age) tend to back Republicans by 26 points.
Other surveys, like the one done by the Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, found similar findings. Of the Veterans surveyed, 44% identified as Republicans. These findings may not be surprising for many, since Republicans are more likely to serve in the military. This strong correlation between Veterans and Conservatives is only part of a larger picture.
September 11 Plays a Role
A 2012 Pew Research poll reported that 36% of post-9/11 veterans are Republican and about 21% are Democrat. This differs sharply from pre-9/11 Veterans, with 31% voting to the right and 26% to the left. Overall, nearly half of all Veterans say they are politically conservative.
Veterans Are Not a “Monolithic” Voting Demographic
While Veterans mostly vote Republican, it is not a guarantee they will always support a candidate from the right. Urben’s dissertation divides the 60% of identified military members into “strong, weak, and lean Republican[s].” Urben also said in an interview that a “majority of those who called themselves Republican were less partisan and more centrist.”
Another odd coincidence is that in the 2012 presidential election, Republican turned Libertarian Ron Paul received more donations than any other candidate from Veterans. In fact, his three highest contributors were the Army, Navy, and Air Force. Both examples show that Veterans do not blindly follow the party line when it comes to voting.
Military Endorsements Won’t Win an Election, but They Can Help in a Tight Race
The Veteran vote is very important, but do military endorsements of candidates play an important role? A 2012 study from the Center for a New American Security says yes, but only if the election is very close. The study found that there is no “statistically significant boost” that comes with military endorsements. But independent voters and voters with a “low level of foreign policy interest” might be swayed by a high-ranking Veteran endorsing a presidential candidate.
Men and women who serve in the military are a unique group of voters. They vote regularly and in higher numbers than civilians. Veterans (and active duty personnel) tend to support Republicans or conservative candidates, but they may be moderate on many issues.
Going forward, the Armed Forces will continue to be an important voting demographic. Experience from their military background and unique career choices make them an important segment that should not be underestimated or taken for granted.