Trust in the U.S. military has decreased significantly in recent years, but armed forces still remain among the most respected institutions in the country, according to a new public opinion poll released by the Ronald Reagan Institute this week.

About 56 percent of Americans surveyed said they have “a great deal of trust and confidence” in the military, down from 70 percent in 2018. The poll includes views of more than 2,500 individuals who were asked questions in early February 2021.

“To see this drop is quite a concern,” said Roger Zakheim, Washington director of the institute. “This is not just the events of the past 12 months. We’re seeing this trend now.”

Researchers saw a similar drop in confidence in law enforcement in recent years (down from 50 percent to 39 percent).

But they noted that even with the military’s decreased reputation, the institution still remains regarded very highly among Americans. Only 6 percent said they had no trust at all in the armed forces. Other institutions such as public education (21 percent), public health officials (33 percent) and Congress (10 percent) trailed significantly behind trust levels in the military.

The foundation has compiled the poll in recent years as a way to gauge public opinions on defense issues and help guide policy decisions on those topics.

About 74 percent of those surveyed said they favor increasing military spending, a figure that has remained consistent in recent years. But only 11 percent said that the military should be the highest priority for budget planners, listing health care and education issues ahead of defense.

Roughly 61 percent of individuals surveyed supported maintaining current U.S. troops levels overseas. But the same amount said they believe that internal threats are a greater or equal challenge for America than external threats.

“There has been a rising concern over domestic division and political violence in the United States and for a number of years now,” Zakheim said. “We see in this poll that Americans are experiencing a sense of pessimism in almost every question [regarding] confidence or trust or reliance on allies. The numbers are generally ticking down.”

Zakheim said the results could be reflective of much of the political turmoil of the last year of former President Donald Trump’s term in office, which featured public debate over the role of the military in civil disturbance and social justice protests.

The full poll results will be released on the foundation’s website later today.

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.

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