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The military’s longtime affinity for the Republican brand appears to be fading, as a growing number of self-described conservatives now say they are independents or libertarians, according to the latest annual Military Times Poll.
About 36 percent of troops surveyed this year expressed support for the GOP, a big drop since 2006, when about half of all troops identified as Republicans, according to the poll of more than 2,100 active-duty officers and enlisted members.
Yet the underlying political sentiments among troops have changed little. Those describing themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative” dropped only slightly during that same six-year period, to 41 percent this year compared with 44 percent in 2006, the surveys show.
Troops offer a range of possible factors behind that shift, such as the changing dynamics within the Republican Party.
“It may have to do with the rise of the tea party movement,” said a Marine lieutenant colonel who described himself as conservative and agreed that he feels less connected with today’s GOP.
He said the military “may be a more ‘independent’ conservative crowd.”
The poll suggests limited support in the ranks for tea party-style conservatism. Among troops who described themselves as “conservative” or “very conservative,” only 18 percent said they were strong tea party supporters. About half expressed limited support, and about 30 percent explicitly distanced themselves from the tea party.
Other troops suggest the recent budget battles on Capitol Hill, in which a growing number of Republicans are coming out in support of cutting the defense budget, also have eroded some support for the party.
“Republicans kind of used to be seen as the party that took care of the military,” said one Army sergeant first class. “But recently, there’s a feeling that that has kind of shifted, and I don’t think people feel that the party is really looking out for the military the way it used to.”
The erosion of support for the Republican Party in the poll is reflected almost exclusively in growth among independents and libertarians.
The data show no increased support for the Democratic Party; about 14 percent of respondents to the latest poll call themselves Democrats, about the same as in 2006. But those identifying as independents ticked up to 25 percent, from 22 percent in 2006, and libertarian representation tripled, from 3 percent in 2006 to 9 percent today.
Some troops say the slip in GOP support may have roots in the Bush administration’s handling of the Iraq War.
“I think that has something to do with … the things we were told [by] a Republican administration that turned out to be wrong,” said Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Chang, who describes himself as a moderate.
Others say the shift simply reflects a disdain for the entire political system and the two major parties.
“They both lie and they both say things they think you want to hear,” said a Navy chief petty officer based in Florida.
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