Active-duty military personnel see improving their pay and benefits, transforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and strengthening ties with U.S. allies as the top national security priorities for President-elect Donald Trump, according to the latest poll by Military Times and Syracuse University's Institute for Military and Veterans Families.
Perhaps just as notable: Fewer than 5 percent of troops surveyed thought that expanding women’s roles, addressing military sex assault and creating opportunity for minority groups — all among the pillars of President Barack Obama's military reform efforts over the last eight years — should stand among Trump’s top priorities for the Defense Department. Among women in uniform, fewer than 10 percent chose any of those three options.
American voters at large view military issues as a distant afterthought to topics such as health care reform, immigration reform and improving the economy. In a Pew Research Center Poll released this week, only 3 percent of the public named national security and defense issues as their pick for Trump’s top priority, and another 3 percent named foreign policy.
Fixing federal health care rules was tops in the Pew poll, with 20 percent of those surveyed backing that priority.
Both polls include a long list of issues — large and small — voters hope the incoming commander in chief will quickly address, not the least of which is his own controversial comments and behavior on the campaign trail.
The businessman-turned-politician will take office in January with a civilian electorate and an active-duty military simultaneously wary and excited about his election.
More than half of voters in the Pew poll (53 percent) said Trump's election made them "uneasy," but almost the same number (51 percent) said they are "hopeful" about his upcoming term.
In the Military Times/IVMF poll — which surveyed 2,790 active-duty troops after the election — 51 percent said they supported Trump and were optimistic about his election. But more than 27 percent said they believe having Trump as commander in chief will negatively affect their military job or mission. Among women, 55 percent worry their jobs will be hurt.
More than 60 percent of the troops surveyed by Military Times and IVMF said Trump’s top military priority should be improving their pay and benefits.
The Defense Department under Obama has sought to reign in personnel costs as broader federal cutbacks have forced the Pentagon to funnel more of those resources toward weapons modernization. The value of troops' compensation has eroded as annual raises have fallen below civilian wage growth for the past five years. The president has ordered a 1.6 percent military pay raise for 2017, a rate that will take effect in January unless members of Congress can secure additional funding for a slightly larger bump of 2.1 percent.
And while he's been bullish on the prospect of growing the American military, it is unclear whether Trump’s plans also include a boost for troops' pay and benefits.
Video by Andrew deGrandpre/Staff
Almost two-thirds of enlisted military personnel who responded to the Military Times/IVMF poll said addressing pay should be Trump's top priority. Among military officers, 52 percent said the next president's top priority should be reducing waste at the Defense Department, a topic that finished fourth among enlisted troops.
Transforming the Department of Veterans Affairs — a major talking point for Trump on the campaign trail — was the second priority among enlisted troops and officers. Veterans groups have praised progress in reforming the department in recent years, but say too many veterans still face lengthy wait times for medical appointments and frustrating bureaucracy in getting benefits.
Between Nov. 10 and 14, Military Times and IVMF conducted a voluntary, confidential online survey of U.S. service members. The questions focused on the nation's current political climate, the results of the 2016 presidential election and other relevant issues.
The survey received 2,790 responses from active-duty troops. A standard methodology was used by IVMF analysts to estimate the weights for each individual observation of the survey sample. The margin of error for most questions was less than 2 percent.
The survey audience was 86 percent male and 14 percent female, and had a mean age of 29.6 years old. The respondents identified themselves as 71 percent white, 14 percent Hispanic, 10 percent African American, 4 percent Asian and 9 percent other ethnicities. Respondents were able to select more than one race.
For the Pew Research Center Poll, researchers conducted telephone interviews among a national sample of 1,254 voters between Nov. 10 and 14. More information on that poll is available on the group’s web site.
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