Results from a new poll show that the traditionally conservative political leanings in the military’s officer corps has taken a slight drop.
The poll, conducted by the National Defense University, surveyed 500 active-duty officers and West Point cadets. While those identifying as conservative took a clear majority, the results suggest the first shift in the officer corps’ political ideology in decades.
“It looks like we might have some shifting for the first time in 30 years,” Army Col. Heidi Urben, a political scientist working for the Joint Chiefs of Staff who compiled the results, told Politico in a piece published Sunday. “We saw a little bit higher proportion of officers who identify as Democrat or liberal than in past surveys and a slightly lower percentage of those who would identify as a Republican or conservative.”
Fifty-four percent of officers identified as Republicans, while twenty-four percent said they were Democrats, with fourteen percent identified as independents. Surprisingly, the numbers associated with party identification did not line up with ideology. Only forty-seven percent of those polled considered themselves conservative, 32 percent said they were moderate, while 22 percent identified as liberal. Previous surveys have shown as many as 65 percent of officers identifying as conservatives.
The poll also showed that officers are politically active, specifically on social media. Seventy-five percent of those surveyed said they have seen fellow officers share political articles or promote politically charged views posted by other individuals.
While sharing political views on Facebook or twitter is harmless, one-third of those surveyed said they regularly see their fellow officers directly promoting a political figure, disparaging a candidate or encouraging others to engage on a political issue. Such partisan behavior may affect public confidence in the military, according to Urben.
“Such behavior threatens to erode the trust in which the public holds the military, leading to it being viewed as just another interest group,” Urben told Politico.
The military is often considered the most trusted U.S. public institution. Gallup reported last year that 73 percent of Americans trusted the military more than any of 14 other institutions, including organized religion and the police.
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