Last week we blogged about the big Military Times poll which got short shrift in the media, despite its eye-opening findings that under a third of U.S. service member approve of Bush's handling of the Iraq war and only 41% think the war was a good idea.
There was another interesting finding in that poll, which columnist Rosa Brooks recently wrote about in the Los Angeles Times -- the rise of Democrats in the military:
Buried in the news last week was one of the most potentially significant stories of recent years. The Military Times released its annual poll of active-duty service members, and the results showed something virtually unprecedented: a one-year decline of 10 percentage points in the number of military personnel identifying themselves as Republicans. In the 2004 poll, the percentage of military respondents who characterized themselves as Republicans stood at 60%. By the end of 2005, that had dropped to 56%. And by the end of 2006, the percentage of military Republicans plummeted to 46%.
Brooks notes how this is a major shift from the decades-long "Republicanization" of the military:
The rightward shift was dramatic: In 1976, 25% of civilians characterized themselves as Republicans, while 33% of military officers were Republicans - a military-civilian "gap" of only 8%. By 1996, the military-civilian gap on party affiliation had grown to 33%; while 34% of civilians self-identified as Republicans, so did a whopping 70% of military officers.
Brooks makes an interesting argument about why this happened, which she largely attributes to regional politics:
But the Republicanization of the military was not just because of "natural" self-selection. It also resulted from changed recruitment and base-closing policies, combined with the steady Republicanization of the American South. The period since the late 1960s saw the closure of many northeastern ROTC programs and the expansion of those programs in the South. By the late 1990s, more than 40% of all ROTC programs were in the South - mainly at state universities - though the South is home to fewer than 30% of the nation's college students. Similar patterns in base closures have meant that disproportionate numbers of military personnel are now stationed at bases in the South and Southwest.
The South's unique ties to the military are undeniable -- its something the Institute has been documenting for some time. Another way to look at it is that the rise of the military economy in the South is what helped push the region in a more conservative political direction. But either way, it's clear that the interplay of the military and politics is a powerful but unfortunately little-discussed aspect of the South.