Poll of military community shows support for Bush, concerns on war

Troops, their families hold sunnier view than general public

Election 2004

October 17, 2004|By Sarah Frank | Sarah Frank,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

WASHINGTON - Members of the military and their families say the Defense Department did not send enough troops to establish a stable peace in Iraq, according to a poll released yesterday.

The military community also said the Bush administration has relied too heavily on inadequately prepared National Guard and reserve forces.

Even so, members of the military on active duty and their families favored President Bush over Sen. John Kerry by a nearly 3-to-1 margin, according to the National Annenberg Election Survey.

More than 60 percent of those questioned said the administration underestimated the number of troops needed in Iraq. Almost as many said the Pentagon put too big of a burden for peacekeeping efforts on the National Guard and reserves, when regular forces should have been expanded.

Of the 655 people questioned, 371 were military personnel and 284 were military family members. No troops currently serving overseas were surveyed.

The majority of respondents - 63 percent - said they approved of the way Bush was handling the situation in Iraq. About 70 percent said troops should stay in Iraq until a stable government is in place.

"These are people who have chosen a way of life and are proud of it. ... They believe in the mission," said Adam Clymer, political director for the survey. "But this is one of the sunniest views of the state of the nation that I've seen from any group in years."

Compared with another recent Annenberg survey of civilians, 60 percent of the military group thought the nation is "generally going in the right direction," whereas 37 percent of the general public agreed.

Members of the military and their families had a more favorable view of Bush - 69 percent versus 49 percent for the general public. As for Kerry, 29 percent of the military group liked him, compared with 44 percent of the general public.

Nearly 65 percent of the military group said the situation in Iraq was worth going to war over. Less than 50 percent of the civilians thought the same way.

The strong support for Bush reflects the military's generally conservative outlook, said Peter Feaver, author of Armed Servants: Agency, Oversight and Civil-Military Relations.

"Going into the election and the campaign season, the expectation would be that this group would have not just a Bush stronghold, but a Bush stranglehold," said Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University.

Feaver said he had expected Bush to lose more support among the military because of the increased violence from the insurgency in Iraq.

Also, it could be that the military is not fond of the alternative, the professor said.

"Kerry has not won over this group on the crucial question for this group, which is who would be a better commander in chief," Feaver said.

The survey showed that 43 percent of the military group responding were Republicans, 19 percent Democrats and 28 percent independent. About 30 percent of the general public say they are Republicans and 33 percent Democrats.

When asked about the soldiers involved in the abuse at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, 86 percent of military members and their families said those soldiers should be punished.

And more than half of those surveyed said the news media should be allowed to show photos of flag-draped coffins being returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. At the start of the war in Iraq, the Defense Department reiterated its 1991 ban on such photos.

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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