The number of veterans elected to state legislature posts dropped nearly two percent in 2018, but the number of women veterans and individuals who served in the recent wars saw significant increases, according to a new study from the American Enterprise Institute.
The trend among statewide elected offices is significant because they often serve as a pipeline for national political offices. For donors and campaign managers, success in winning elections at a local level often provides a “proven pathway” for pursuing higher office, the report states.
In Congress, the number of lawmakers with prior military service has declined steadily over the last four decades. In the 1970s, nearly three-fourths of House and Senate members were veterans. At the start of the 116th Congress last year, fewer than one in five had served.
But those numbers could rise in coming election cycles based on increased involvement in local politics by certain groups of veterans.
The new report — written by Rebecca Burgess, manager of AEI’s Program on American Citizenship — notes that all 50 state legislatures now boast at least two members who served in the military. New Hampshire, which has more 424 state elected posts, has 98 veterans among their cohort.
While 10 states saw increases in their veteran representation following the 2018 elections, 35 saw drops. Nationwide, the number of veterans serving in those state legislature posts decreased from about 14 percent in 2016 to 12 percent in 2018.
Still, Burgess noted that only about 7 percent of the national population served in the military, “which means that veterans continue to participate in elected office at a higher rate than the general population does.”
The number of veterans with service after Sept. 11, 2001, increased by about 10 percent over that period, meaning nearly one-third have served during the era of the most recent military conflicts. More than 40 percent have deployed overseas as part of their military career.
Women still make up only about 5 percent of all veterans serving in state legislatures, but Burgess said that total still indicates significant growth in recent years and “perhaps a strong line of future female veteran candidates at the national level.”
Women veterans elected to those posts are more likely to be Democrats rather than Republicans, according to the research. But overall the veterans are more likely to align with the GOP.
The full study is available at the AEI web site.
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.