Retired Marine Gen. Jim Mattis has said he has no plans to mount a third-party bid to become president. But a lot of service members wish he would.
More than half of service members who took part in the latest Military Times election survey said Mattis entering the presidential campaign would be a positive development in today's divisive political environment.
Several said they plan on writing in his name, whether or not he actually runs.
Nearly 52 percent of the 948 troops Military Times surveyed said Mattis would be a positive influence in the race, while 16 percent said he'd have a negative one. Another 32 percent said a Mattis presidential bid would not make any difference.
The same poll found that among troops currently serving, roughly 21 percent would not vote if their only choices were Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton and Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump.
Mattis developed a cultlike following among service members during his 34-year military career, in large part due to his blunt talk and impressive military résumé. He last served as head of U.S. Central Command before retiring in 2013.
Republican operatives earlier this year began laying the groundwork for a Mattis presidential bid as a third-party alternative to Trump and Clinton. But late last month, in a message to supporters, Mattis ruled out any such effort.
In the Military Times survey, Mattis support was highest among Marines, 71 percent of whom said his candidacy would positively affect the race. Lower-level enlisted respondents also offered strong support, with 65 percent of E-1s through E-3s backing the idea.
Among Republicans, 22 percent said they thought a Mattis run would have a negative effect on the race, perhaps indicating concerns that such a campaign would siphon away votes from the Republican nominee. But 53 percent believe he could be a positive influence, showing strong support for the idea among Republican service members regardless of its effect on their party.
Only 12 percent of Democrats said Mattis' entry would be negative, with 49 percent predicting it would have no effect.
Individuals involved with the campaign to "draft" Mattis into a presidential run acknowledged that the bid would be a long-shot, given the complexity of getting a third-party candidate's name on all 50 state ballots and the financial advantages of the major-party nominees.
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 email@example.com.
George Altman covers military transition issues, education and post-separation employment and entrepreneurship for Military Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.