SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — Americans still enjoy overwhelming confidence in the U.S. military, according to a new survey by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation. But defense lawmakers warned that that support shouldn’t be taken for granted.
“We have to put our money where our mouth is,” said Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., who sits on the House Armed Services Committee.
“The military is such a revered institution because of everything it stands for and everything it has been able to accomplish … But we have more to do.”
They survey, conducted in conjunction with the annual Reagan National Defense Forum, found that 93 percent of respondents viewed the military as a trusted institution. Of that group, the majority said they had great confidence in the armed forces.
That level of trust outpaced law enforcement (83 percent), public schools (61 percent), the presidency (42 percent) and Congress (41 percent). The survey included responses from more than 1,200 individuals nationwide.
However, that level of faith in military members does not necessarily translate into support for increasing the defense budget. About 48 percent of those surveyed said they strongly back a boost in military spending, with 11 percent strongly opposed to the idea.
At a forum discussion of the survey unveiling, Sen. Angus King, I-Maine and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said he didn’t necessarily see a conflict in those figures.
“The military is competent. They do their job. They do their mission,” he said. “The military represents the best aspects of our country.”
But Cheney, who also serves as a member of the House Republican leadership team, said she sees the level of confidence tied to improvements in military training, readiness and funding in recent years.
“That (support) number is as it should be, but we also have to make sure we don’t take false comfort in that,” she said at the forum. “But we’re in a situation today where the threats across the world, I don’t think the American people really understand it.”
She argued that lawmakers should view the numbers as evidence the country will back a continued rise in defense spending, an issue expected to be at the heart of military debates in Congress for months to come.
President Donald Trump has already suggested a Defense Department budget of $700 billion for fiscal 2020, which would represent a significant drop from anticipated spending levels and the fiscal 2019 budget of $716 billion.
Ahead of the conference, House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, and Senate Armed Services Committee Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., wrote a Wall Street Journal editorial calling the $700 billion funding level “dangerous” and urging continued investment in the defense budget.
But congressional Democrats have argued that defense spending must be balanced against other domestic and diplomatic priorities.
The foundation survey also found that respondents viewed the Marines as the most effective service of the four branches (27 percent) and mixed support for President Donald Trump’s proposed Space Force, with 48 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed.
The full survey is available on the foundation’s website.
Visit Defense News' Reagan National Defense Forum site for full coverage of the event.
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.