Military Times poll: Troops backing McCain
By Brendan McGarry - Staff writerPosted : Thursday Oct 9, 2008 5:44:48 EDT
Sen. John McCain enjoys overwhelming support from the military’s professional core, a Military Times survey of nearly 4,300 readers, indicates, though career-oriented black service members strongly favored the Democratic Party candidate.
McCain, R-Ariz., handily defeated Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., 68 percent to 23 percent in a voluntary survey of 4,293 active-duty, National Guard and reserve subscribers and former subscribers to Army Times, Navy Times, Marine Corps Times and Air Force Times.
The results of the Military Times 2008 Election Poll are not representative of the opinions of the military as a whole. The group surveyed is older, more senior in rank and less ethnically diverse than the overall armed services.
But as a snapshot of careerists, the results suggest Democrats have gained little ground in their attempts to significantly chip away at a traditionally Republican voting bloc in campaign messages and legislative initiatives, such as the recent expansion of GI Bill benefits, experts said.
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“The military has been perceived as a conservative Republican institution,” said Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University and a special adviser to the National Security Council from 2005 to 2007.
“A lot of people thought that eight years of frustration with the Bush administration was going to undermine that,” he said. “This evidence suggests that it hasn’t undermined it as much as they thought, at least not yet.”
Officers and enlisted troops, active-duty members and reservists, those who have served in combat and those who haven’t, all backed McCain by large margins, to about the same extent they supported President Bush four years ago.
About 69 percent of respondents said they voted for Bush in 2004, while about 16 percent voted for the Democratic nominee, Sen. John Kerry.
McCain’s majority wanes among women and disappears altogether among black respondents.
Nearly eight out of 10 black service members indicated they intend to vote for Obama despite his lack of military service and despite McCain’s record as a naval aviator and prisoner of war in Vietnam.
“I’m going to vote for Barack Obama,” said Marine Gunnery Sgt. Derrick Pipkin, a heavy equipment chief with the 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing in Miramar, Calif., and a black man who said he served seven months in Iraq in 2005.
Pipkin said his vote was influenced more by the continued presence of 152,000 troops in Iraq than by race.
“I believe that we did our best for the country,” he said. “It’s time to move on.”
Iraq is third-biggest issue
Among the top issues for respondents in the survey, the war in Iraq ranks third; it was the top concern in the 2004 Military Times survey. Among white respondents in the most recent survey, the candidate’s character ranked as the top issue; African Americans cited the economy as most important.
Recent progress in stabilizing Iraq has helped McCain politically, Feaver said. McCain was an early supporter of the troop surge credited with helping to reduce violence in Baghdad and other areas of Iraq.
Similarly, the character question plays to McCain’s strength, Feaver said. His dramatic experience as a POW is embodied in his campaign slogan, “Country First,” and carries a particular resonance in the military community, as service members themselves indicated.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Derriel D. Collins, who is black, said he was influenced by McCain’s service record, though he acknowledges black friends question his decision.
“I’m not going to give [my vote] to you just because you’re black,” he said. “It doesn’t work like that.”
“John McCain went to war for this country, even though he had an admiral father who probably could have gotten him out of the service,” Collins said. “He stuck it out five years in a prisoner of war camp. If that ain’t fortitude, showing your willingness to go all the way, I don’t know what the credentials are.”
Army Sgt. Timothy Coen said he will vote for McCain because that would be in keeping with his political views.
“I just always voted conservative and on a lot of the issues at hand — gun rights and abortion — it just seemed like the more logical choice,” he said.
Coen, who is white, said he is proud to see a minority running on the ticket of a major political party.
“But we’d all be fools to think that the race card isn’t going to be played in this election,” he added. “As much as we’d like to say that discrimination or inequality is a thing of the past, it’s not.”
Daniel J. Becker, an enlisted airman who declined to provide his rank because he wanted his comments to reflect only his personal views and not those of the service or Defense Department, said he will vote for McCain because he has always leaned toward Republican candidates.
“I’ve always felt that the Republican Party was interested in having a stronger military, which leads to a stronger America,” he said. “That gives us a better voice in world politics and just makes us stand out as the world leaders that we are.”