NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Military, Civilian Minds At Odds

September 9, 1999

A new survey finds a widening gap between the political attitudes of upper-echelon military personnel and elite civilians with no military background.

The study -- based on nearly 4,000 interviews of military leaders and prominent civilians with and without military experience -- was coordinated by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies. Civilians were selected at random from Who's Who and other lists.

While there were few disagreements about foreign policy, the single most striking divide was political.

  • Some 64 percent of military officers identified themselves as Republicans, compared to just 8 percent who said they were Democrats.
  • But among civilian non-veterans, the proportions were 30 percent Republicans and 43 percent Democrats.
  • The proportion of military officers describing their political philosophy as conservative was 67 percent; moderate, 29 percent; and liberal, 4 percent.
  • On the other hand, 32 percent of civilians with no military background regarded themselves as conservatives; 29 percent, moderate; and liberal, 37 percent.

A third category of participants -- civilian veterans -- usually responded somewhere between the two other groups.

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen has in the past voiced a hope "to somehow prevent a chasm from developing between the military and civilian worlds."

Divisions were not nearly so marked when participants were asked about their attitudes on such issues as a decline in moral values, their confidence in the press and universities, and the threat of international terrorism.

When questioned about their confidence in the presidency, their responses were low. Only 17 percent of military officers expressed a "great deal of confidence," as did 22 percent of civilian veterans, and 20 percent of civilian non-veterans.

Source: Adam Clymer, "Sharp Divergence Found in Views of Military and Civilians," New York Times, September 9, 1999.


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