In a new survey of American military personnel, Donald Trump emerged as active-duty service members' preference to become the next U.S. president, topping Hillary Clinton by more than a 2-to-1 margin. However, in the latest Military Times election survey, more than one in five troops said they’d rather not vote in November if they have to choose between just those two candidates.
But given only those choices, 21 percent of the service members surveyed said they would abstain from voting.More than 54 percent of the 951 troops Military Times surveyed said they would vote for Trump, the presumed Republican presidential nominee, over Clinton, the Democratic front-runner. Only about 25 percent said they would vote for Clinton in that matchup.
The results, while not a scientific sampling of military voting patterns (see our methodology below), show strong support for Trump among troops despite critics' attacks that he lacks foreign policy or national security experience.
Independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders fared slightly better than Clinton in a similar head-to-head matchup with Trump, but still trailed the reality TV star and business mogul by a 51 percent to 38 percent margin. About one in 10 military members said they would not vote at all given those two candidates.
Military personnel also demonstrated strong support for Trump in a Military Times reader survey conducted in March. Trump was the most popular candidate among the six presidential candidates remaining then, and the clear choice among Republican service members.
Trump stands as the presumptive Republican nominee for president, following the exit of his two remaining top party rivals in the last week. But numerous high-profile party leaders — including House Speaker Paul Ryan and the last three GOP presidential nominees — have declined to endorse him, citing concerns about his temperament and policy plans.
Meanwhile, Sanders has vowed to fight the Democratic primary contest all the way to the party convention in late July. Clinton, who by the end of the primary season appears likely to reach the number of delegates required to get her party's nomination, has begun shifting her campaign focus to Trump, attacking his thin national security résumé and lack of support among Republican Party leaders.
In the latest survey, nearly half of respondents identified as Republicans, and only 18 percent as Democrats. That partisan divide accounted for much of Trump’s support.
Democrats overwhelmingly favored Clinton (72 percent to 8 percent) and Republicans overwhelmingly supported Trump (82 percent to 6 percent). Troops who identified as independents slightly favored Trump, by a 40 percent to 32 percent margin.
Female troops favored Clinton over Trump, by a 51 percent to 24 percent margin. Male troops backed Trump over Clinton 57 percent to 22 percent.
Officers were more likely to back Clinton than enlisted troops, though the officers still favored Trump by a 46 percent to 32 percent tally. Enlisted respondents broke 58 percent to 21 percent for Trump.
The same held for Sanders, where he outpaced Trump’s support by a 45 percent to 43 percent margin among Navy members. Among the services, Marines were the most likely to support Trump (60 percent said they’d vote for him) while sailors were the most likely to support Clinton (31 percent said they would vote for her).
The survey began the day of the Indiana primary, before Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz dropped out of the presidential contest, and remained open until later that week. Military members surveyed backed Cruz over Clinton and Sanders, as well, though not by as large of a margin as Trump.
In all of the hypothetical matchups presented, at least 11 percent of military members said they would not vote if given only the two major party choices. In the case of a Clinton/Cruz contest, 25 percent said they would skip voting rather than back either candidate.
In anecdotal comments connected to the survey, several survey respondents called the options for president frustrating and disappointing:
- “Weakest field of my adult life.”
- “Absolutely disgusted by this election cycle.”
- “It’s a lose/lose situation no matter what.”
- “They all suck.”
Dozens also noted plans to vote for a third-party candidate, citing their dissatisfaction with the major party choices.
“The candidates left just don’t understand the military,” said Army Capt. Christian Pardo, who said he would not vote for any of the major party candidates left. “The military perspective on some of their policies are just so far out there.”
Pardo said he wishes a candidate with military experience was still left in the race. He’ll be considering third-party candidates in the fall, “but if none appeal to me, I may just stay home.”
Air Force 1st Lt. Tyler Livingston said he’ll probably do the same, especially if it’s a Trump/Clinton contest.
“I really don’t understand how a better candidate didn’t jump into the race,” he said. “I was hoping we see something else.”
How the survey was conducted
Between May 3 and May 6, Military Times conducted a voluntary, confidential survey of subscribers who include verified active-duty, National Guard and reserve component service members. More than 59,000 subscribers received e-mail invitations to participate. In total, 951 respondents completed the survey.
The sample is not a perfect representation of the military as a whole; it over-represents officers and noncommissioned officers, and under-represents junior enlisted personnel. However, it is representative of the more senior and career-oriented members of the force who run the military's day-to-day operations and carry out its policies.
The voluntary nature of this survey, the dependence on email and the characteristics of Military Times readers may affect the results. Statistical margins of error commonly reported in opinion polls that use random sampling can't be calculated for this survey.
Leo Shane III covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
George Altman covers military transition issues, education and post-separation employment and entrepreneurship for Military Times. He can be reached at email@example.com.