Monday, May 25, 2009

Military Veterans of All Ages Tend to Be More Republican

As befits his lofty position, Barack Obama had a more eventful Memorial Day than did I. I suspect the hardest part of it all was remembering to sync up the random buzzword generator with his teleprompter so that he could deliver his usual desultory remarks in response to North Korea's underground nuclear test. He managed to render a few gems such as "take action" and "blatant violation of international law"; it was as if Obama thought that Kim Jong Il was just another part of his sycophancy to be persuaded by such perfunctory nonsense.

For my part, the highlight of the weekend - besides spending time with family and friends - was coming across a report on a Gallup poll of over 130,000 adults that seemed to confirm the intuitively obvious.

Veterans are more likely to be Republican than are those of comparable ages who are not veterans. This Republican skew is at least minimally evident across all age groups, ranging from a 15-point difference in the percentage Republican between veterans and nonveterans in the 25-29 age group, to a 2-point difference in the 85+ group.
This does not entirely surprise when one considers that veterans were also noted by Gallup to be more supportive of Sen. John McCain in last year's presidential election. What is interesting is the fact that this gap seems to persist irrespective of both age and gender, although - as the poll goes on to point out - "[n]inety-one percent of those who have served in the military at some point in their lives are men."

Needless to say, Gallup was more than interested in coming up with a reason for this variance. They considered two hypotheses, the former positing that military service
"socializes an individual in certain ways that in turn lead to a more Republican viewpoint."
Their other theory proposed that "individuals already disproportionately Republican in orientation are more likely to join the military." By Gallup's lights, both have explanatory power depending upon the age of the veteran.

The latter explanation seems more reasonable for the younger age cohorts considered in this research. For the most part, Americans who are now aged 55 and under, as noted, volunteered to serve rather than having been drafted. Under these conditions, a reasonable hypothesis seems to be that more conservative/more Republican persons would be disproportionately represented in the ranks of volunteers, suggesting that the major reason for the observed veteran/nonveteran political difference lies in the backgrounds of those who choose to serve.

On the other hand, those who are now 56 and older were generally subject to the draft and presumably had a lot less choice in whether they served. That would be particularly true for Americans now 70 and older, among whom the majority are veterans. Here a more reasonable hypothesis may be that the socialization process that took place as part of military training and service, coupled with the impact such service has on an individual's reflection on politics and policy later in life, had a greater impact on the observed more Republican orientation among these veterans.

In the end, Gallup concluded that "both processes are at work to at least some degree across the age spectrum." Not to split hairs with Gallup, but as a veteran, I would argue that while their second explanation seems plausible, the first seems incomplete. To be sure, if you are a 20-something who would consider military service - despite the best efforts of liberal teachers/professors, pop culture, the MSM, much of established religion, liberal politicians and touchy-feely Baby Boomer parents - then yes, you probably are right-of-center in your political leanings.

But if the "socialization process" attendant to military service were an explanatory factor, then one might expect for Republican Party identification to be either uniformly high among veterans across age groups or to increase with age. The socialization theory would not account for the observed dip in GOP identification among vets between the ages of 35-59. For socialization to be a major part of the answer, one would have to conclude that it was less effective (or the effect more delayed) for some age cohorts than others.

Whatever the case, when one observes GOP affiliation among veterans by age, it is becomes evident that the distribution closely matches that seen among Republicans more generally by age, with the GOP achieving near parity with Democrats among those ages 30-44, and doing not as well with Baby Boomers and members of Generation Y (ages 18-29). All of this begs yet another question: namely, what is it about Gen X'ers - the fabled slackers of yore - that predisposes them to be slightly more likely to identify with the GOP than Boomers or Gen Y?

I'll offer one other thought. Unlike their Boomer forebears of their Gen Y siblings, Gen X'ers represent a generational cleanup crew of sorts. They are the ones who have and will continue to pay the tab - emotionally, psycho-socially and financially - for the Boom generation's self-indulgent delusions. As servicemembers fighting in their own inter-generational war, X'ers seem to be coming to a similar conclusion to that reached by vets more generally.

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