Our Army: Soldiers, Politics, and American Civil-Military Relations

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Overview

Conventional wisdom holds that the American military is overwhelmingly conservative and Republican, and extremely political. Our Army paints a more complex picture, demonstrating that while army officers are likely to be more conservative, rank-and-file soldiers hold political views that mirror those of the American public as a whole, and army personnel are less partisan and politically engaged than most civilians.

Assumptions about political attitudes in the U.S. Army are based largely on studies focusing on the senior ranks, yet these senior officers comprise only about 6 percent of America's fighting force. Jason Dempsey provides the first random-sample survey that also covers the social and political attitudes held by enlisted men and women in the army. Uniting these findings with those from another unique survey he conducted among cadets at the United States Military Academy on the eve of the 2004 presidential election, Dempsey offers the most detailed look yet at how service members of all ranks approach politics. He shows that many West Point cadets view political conservatism as part of being an officer, raising important questions about how the army indoctrinates officers politically. But Dempsey reveals that the rank-and-file army is not nearly as homogeneous as we think—or as politically active—and that political attitudes across the ranks are undergoing a substantial shift.

Our Army adds needed nuance to our understanding of a profession that seems increasingly distant from the average American.

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Editorial Reviews

Choice
There is a general perception that US military institutions are heavily dominated by the Republican Party and, consequently, an unacceptable number of army officers have combined their political and professional identities, which has created a sense of discomfort among the American public. Dempsey presents a comprehensive, well-researched assessment of the political and social attitudes of members of the US Army on social and political issues. This in-depth analysis explains the similarities and differences in opinions and attitudes on social and political issues among the military and the civilian population.
Army Magazine - COL Gregory Fontenot
Jason K. Dempsey's Our Army adds to the work of military sociology in important ways and is useful fodder for thought for soldiers and civilians. . . . Dempsey has written a powerful book that deserves a place on the same shelf as the works of Janowitz and Huntington.
Public Opinion Quarterly - Douglas L. Kriner
Through its careful assessment of results from a unique, original survey instrument, Our Army offers an important corrective to the conventional view of an increasingly conservative, politically active army that threatens to upend established norms of civil-military relations. It offers a wealth of new data for scholars to explore, and it suggests avenues for future research that will further bolster our understanding of the army and its intricate relations with the political branches of government.
From the Publisher
"There is a general perception that US military institutions are heavily dominated by the Republican Party and, consequently, an unacceptable number of army officers have combined their political and professional identities, which has created a sense of discomfort among the American public. Dempsey presents a comprehensive, well-researched assessment of the political and social attitudes of members of the US Army on social and political issues. This in-depth analysis explains the similarities and differences in opinions and attitudes on social and political issues among the military and the civilian population."Choice

"Jason K. Dempsey's Our Army adds to the work of military sociology in important ways and is useful fodder for thought for soldiers and civilians. . . . Dempsey has written a powerful book that deserves a place on the same shelf as the works of Janowitz and Huntington."—COL Gregory Fontenot, Army Magazine

"Through its careful assessment of results from a unique, original survey instrument, Our Army offers an important corrective to the conventional view of an increasingly conservative, politically active army that threatens to upend established norms of civil-military relations. It offers a wealth of new data for scholars to explore, and it suggests avenues for future research that will further bolster our understanding of the army and its intricate relations with the political branches of government."—Douglas L. Kriner, Public Opinion Quarterly

Colonel; Army Magazine - Gregory Fontenot
Jason K. Dempsey's Our Army adds to the work of military sociology in important ways and is useful fodder for thought for soldiers and civilians. . . . Dempsey has written a powerful book that deserves a place on the same shelf as the works of Janowitz and Huntington.
Army Magazine
Jason K. Dempsey's Our Army adds to the work of military sociology in important ways and is useful fodder for thought for soldiers and civilians. . . . Dempsey has written a powerful book that deserves a place on the same shelf as the works of Janowitz and Huntington.
— COL Gregory Fontenot
Public Opinion Quarterly
Through its careful assessment of results from a unique, original survey instrument, Our Army offers an important corrective to the conventional view of an increasingly conservative, politically active army that threatens to upend established norms of civil-military relations. It offers a wealth of new data for scholars to explore, and it suggests avenues for future research that will further bolster our understanding of the army and its intricate relations with the political branches of government.
— Douglas L. Kriner
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691142258
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 12/7/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,484,125
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author


Jason K. Dempsey is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who served in Afghanistan. He has a PhD in political science from Columbia University and is a graduate of the United States Military Academy.
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Read an Excerpt

OUR ARMY

SOLDIERS, POLITICS, AND AMERICAN CIVIL-MILITARY RELATIONS
By Jason K. Dempsey

PRINCETON UNIVERSITY PRESS

Copyright © 2010 Princeton University Press
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-691-14225-8


Chapter One

Introduction

Americans are well aware of the example George Washington set for the relationship between the fledgling American state and its military. The image of Washington as victorious military commander grandly announcing his retirement and abruptly departing Annapolis by horse, thereby forgoing any Napoleonic aspirations to power, is indelibly inked in the American psyche. The idea that the uniformed hero would ride away from the army he almost single-handedly maintained and led through the Revolution, his army, to return to his home on Mount Vernon, voluntarily relinquishing a very good chance of becoming America's first monarch, was a stunning precedent in American civil-military relations. In this, Washington emulated Cincinnatus and demonstrated how members of the armed forces in America should not attempt to directly translate military power into domestic political power.

Despite his refusal to assume power on the basis of his military position, Washington became America's first president-due in no small part to his military service. The prestige that Washington had gained through his sacrifice during the Revolution was a valuable asset for those trying to determine the course of the new nation. Planning for the Constitutional Convention, Henry Knox and James Madison worked diligently to secure his attendance to lend legitimacy to the idea of a major transformation of government. Washington ultimately agreed and served as the president of the convention. This allowed him to remain above the debate and made him a natural choice for the newly created position of president. Washington thereby set the first example of how military service could still be a valuable asset for elected public office without violating the premise of civilian supremacy.

Since the time of Washington's successful transition from military commander to president, more than a few men (and, increasingly, women) with military experience have attempted to translate their service into political power. And a greater number without a background of military service have tried to draw upon the support of members of the military as a political asset. In recent years, these efforts have become more acute. As the stature of the military rises, so does its appeal as a political force. However, this basic relationship represents a paradox.

The reputation of the military has steadily increased since the late 1970s. Today a higher percentage of people state that they have "a great deal of confidence" in the military than they do in medicine, religion, the press, or Congress. Much of this gain in prestige has come from the army's performance on the battlefield, as in the aftermath of the first Gulf War, and the rally effect of the attacks on the United States in 2001. But aside from these spikes in confidence during and after armed conflict, there has been a steady increase, which many attribute to the growing professionalism of the American military since the advent of the all-volunteer force. There are many dimensions to military professionalism, but one key aspect has been the apolitical nature of military service.

Military service is fundamentally about protecting the state-not just a fraction of the state. Military sacrifice is implicitly for the greater good and has never been conceptualized as sacrifice for a specific political agenda. This dynamic of representing collective interests over specific interests is among the reasons that people often have more confidence in the presidency than they do in Congress. If we take the example further, we note that the judiciary generally ranks higher than both the presidency and Congress due to its perceived position "above the fray" of most political squabbles, and the military typically ranks above all three branches of government. A significant portion of the military's prestige comes from its reputation as one of the most apolitical American institutions.

And thus the paradox of prestige. The more members of the military build a reputation for apolitical service to the country the greater a political prize the military becomes. As the military gains in prestige, the political backing of members of the military, either implicit or explicit, becomes an advantage in electoral politics. In the view of political operatives, the military is therefore a valuable "prestige vote" whose capture translates into much more than the actual votes of members of the military.

The 2004 election highlighted how central military service and the political preferences of the military can be to political campaigns. Against the backdrop of wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the military service of both presidential candidates was a major component of each campaign. Both candidates aggressively sought to win the votes of military personnel and their family members. Each candidate invited retired generals to speak on his behalf during the campaign and at the nominating conventions. At times it seemed as if a virtual arms race had been initiated as both parties sought retired members of the armed forces to sit onstage behind their candidate.

A decisive moment in this struggle involved retired General Tommy Franks. Fresh out of uniform as the combatant commander for the geographic region covering Afghanistan and Iraq, Franks stepped onto the stage of the Republican National Convention and endorsed George W. Bush for president. This was notable because his endorsement appeared explicitly designed to highlight the apolitical nature of military service and, by extension, the "purity" of Franks's endorsement of Bush. Franks began his speech by noting, "I'm not a Republican. I'm not a Democrat. But I believe in democracy. I believe in America. After almost four decades as a Soldier I've been Independent. But, here I stand tonight, endorsing George W. Bush." He then spent the remainder of his speech talking about war, ending with a reference to George W. Bush not as president but as "Commander-in-Chief." In doing so, Franks translated the reputation of the military for apolitical service into a strong endorsement of the Republican candidate for president.

This dramatic endorsement from a newly retired general and the steady drumbeat of debates over the meaning of military service and attitudes of service members spurred survey researchers to take notice. Unfortunately, there was a dearth of information about the general public's attitudes toward military issues and an almost complete absence of surveys of military personnel. Survey questions about military service largely vanished with the end of the draft in 1973, and comprehensive data on the social and political attitudes of active-duty members of the military were virtually nonexistent. As late as 2000, many surveys omitted military installations from their sampling procedures. In 2004 survey researchers scrambled to fill the gap.

The most notable of these efforts were made by the Annenberg Public Policy Center and the Military Times Media Group. Using their extensive database of respondents contacted for the 2004 National Annenberg Election Survey (NAES), the Annenberg Center conducted a special survey of 656 households with an active-duty service member. The Military Times newspapers capitalized on a series of surveys begun in 2003 which utilized their subscriber rolls to identify and survey members of the military. For the 2004 election they were able to survey 1,498 of their subscribers who were also active service members.

These polls from the Annenberg Center and Military Times Company reported significant support for the incumbent Bush and high rates of Republican Party affiliation among members of the military. Of the 372 respondents in the Annenberg Center survey who were members of the military, 47% identified themselves as Republicans and 15% identified themselves as Democrats. The Military Times Company reported that 60% of their respondents described themselves as Republican and only 13% identified themselves as Democrats. Seventy percent of their respondents approved of the job being done by President Bush. These findings were well publicized but did not cause a significant stir, as they appeared to confirm the findings of a study conducted in 1998 and 1999 by the Triangle Institute for Security Studies (TISS).

The TISS project was an attempt to assess whether an attitudinal "gap" existed between the military and civilian populations. The authors of the TISS study were interested in the attitudes of military elites and limited their analysis to midlevel and senior-level officers who were currently attending professional military schooling. The surveys did not include junior officers or the enlisted ranks. However, the study was the most comprehensive analysis of the attitudes of senior military leaders to date, with 723 active-duty service members included in their surveys. The findings of the TISS study appeared to confirm widespread anecdotal evidence that the military had become overwhelmingly Republican, with 64% of officers in the survey choosing to identify with that party. Only 8% identified themselves as Democrats. Although the TISS study is very useful as a starting point for quantifying the gap between the military and society, the project's focus on senior military leaders meant that the TISS survey sample represented only about 6% of the army.

While each of these studies made valuable contributions to our understanding of the social and political attitudes of the military, many questions remain. This book seeks to fill the gap in our understanding of the active military population by examining one branch of service, the army, in detail. Focusing on one branch of service allows for the first in-depth look at the attitudes of enlisted personnel as well as a careful analysis of various subgroups within the service, such as junior officers, women, and racial and ethnic minorities. This analysis is made possible by the first and only random-sample survey of the army that addresses the social and political attitudes of active service members.

Citizenship and Service: A 2004 Survey of Army Personnel

The Citizenship and Service Survey (hereafter C&S Survey) was designed to collect data on each respondent's (1) general attitudes toward the army, including morale, career intentions, and opinions about army leadership; (2) reasons for joining the army; (3) personal attitudes toward social issues and political issues, including foreign policy; and (4) experiences of discrimination and opinions concerning gender and racial and ethnic relations in the army and civilian society. Wherever useful and possible, the survey replicated questions in existing American national surveys to allow for comparisons with the civilian population.

In addition to gathering this baseline information on attitudes, the survey included extensive demographic information. Survey questions concerning respondents' demographic characteristics focused on data that the army had not normally collected. These included questions on language proficiency, the military service of family members, and the immigration status of the soldiers' parents and grandparents.

Every soldier and officer on active duty whose name was in the army's personnel database as of February 2004 was eligible for inclusion in the survey, with the exception of personnel deployed in combat zones; those in units deploying to and from Iraq and Afghanistan during the months of April and May 2004; and soldiers and officers in a few select ranks. Due to the high turnover and sustained deployment of forces into Iraq and Afghanistan, the exclusion of soldiers currently in a combat zone did not prevent combat veterans from being included. A large number of respondents (375, or 32% of the sample) were veterans of either Operation Iraqi Freedom (2003-4) or Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan (2001-4); and 143 indicated that they had been involved in direct ground combat in the previous two years.

The survey excluded sergeants major and generals due to the small population size of these ranks and the high visibility of generals. The survey also excluded the lowest two enlisted ranks, private E1 (PV1) and private E2 (PV2), because of the very high mobility of these soldiers. Soldiers entering the army generally serve in these ranks for less than a year, spending the majority of their time in basic and advanced individual training before arriving at their first regular unit. The soldiers and officers in the four rank categories just cited make up approximately 10% of the army on active duty, which left 90% of the army population, by rank, eligible to be included in the survey.

The design of the survey sample focused on the dimensions of race and rank and included oversamples of certain groups based on projected return rates. Specifically, the sample included additional white, black, and Hispanic officers as well as additional black and Hispanic enlisted soldiers in an attempt to get close to two hundred respondents in each category. In the end, responses from the basic sample plus the oversample, taken together, yielded a final sample size for analysis of 1,188, including responses from 563 enlisted men and women, 90 warrant officers, and 535 officers. The composition of the final sample, broken down by rank, gender, and race and ethnicity, is shown in table 1.1.

The survey was conducted primarily via mail questionnaires between April 3 and July 24, 2004. Each respondent received an introductory letter that was followed, in sequence, by the primary survey mailing, a reminder postcard, and then a second survey mailing. The last contact was a fifth letter offering respondents the option of completing the survey online. The response rate for the survey was 45% among those soldiers and officers whose mail was not returned as undeliverable. All reported data in this book are weighted to reflect the army population on the dimensions of race, rank, and gender, except where noted.

In sum, the C&S Survey provides a baseline and comprehensive view of social and political attitudes across one branch of military service, the army. This baseline allows for the examination and testing of previous findings based on anecdotal or incomplete evidence. By closely examining the possible determinants of these attitudes and the role of the military in shaping political views it also allows for a clearer picture to emerge of how members of the military form their political views.

The 2004 West Point Preelection Survey

Although the bulk of the analysis in this book focuses on the attitudes of members of the active-duty army, these findings are augmented in chapter 8 with the results of a survey of West Point cadets conducted on the eve of the 2004 election. Data from this survey provide another angle from which we can explore the reason for any differences between soldiers and officers. By examining future officers in precommissioning training, the survey also provides a window into the way the army may or may not socialize its future leaders.

The cadet survey was designed using the C&S survey as a guide and covered many of the same topics. The survey also included questions that might inform the way the political and social attitudes of future officers develop. These included questions on the military service of family members, the political affiliations of family members, and the socioeconomic status of cadets' families. The survey also explored the extent to which cadets feel pressure to identify with either of the two major political parties.

The survey was administered through a secure Web site from Saturday, October 30, until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, November 2 (Election Day). Responses to the survey yielded a final sample size for analysis of 885, including responses from 738 men and 129 women. The survey response rate was 54 percent. The survey methodology is discussed in more detail in chapter 8.

This study uses the results of both the cadet survey and the C&S Survey in an attempt to answer the following specific research questions:

1. To what degree is the army different from the American public in terms of political participation and political and social attitudes? 2. What role do demographic differences play in explaining any attitudinal differences? 3. How do soldiers and officers differ in their social and political views, and why? 4. What role does self-selection play in explaining the attitudes of those who join an all-volunteer army? 5. Are civilian perceptions of military attitudes accurate? Is the military rightly perceived as a conservative and predominantly Republican institution? 6. What are the implications of the answers to these questions for civilmilitary relations?

(Continues...)



Excerpted from OUR ARMY by Jason K. Dempsey Copyright © 2010 by Princeton University Press. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

List of Illustrations xi

List of Tables xiii

Preface xv

Acknowledgments xvii

Chapter 1 Introduction 1

Citizenship and Service: A 2004 Survey of Army Personnel 5

The 2004 West Point Preelection Survey 7

Chapter 2 Soldiers and Politics 10

Historical Overview 10

From the Revolution to Civil War 10

Post-Civil War 13

Post-World War II 15

Post-Vietnam 20

After the Cold War 23

Implications for Civil-Military Relations 27

Chapter 3 An Overview of Army Demographics 34

The Army's Rank Structure 34

Gender, Race, and Ethnicity 35

Education and Income 38

Family and Region 40

The Virtual Army and Virtual Officer Corps 42

Chapter 4 Social and Political Attitudes 45

Reasons for Joining 45

Views of the Army 47

Use of Military Force 48

Defense and Foreign Policy Spending 52

The Economy and Domestic Spending 54

Social Issues 60

Attitudes toward Issues of Gender and Race 62

Trust and Efficacy in Government 65

Conclusion 68

Chapter 5 Conservatism 70

Self-Identification 70

Opting In and Opting Out? 82

Social and Economic Dimensions of Conservatism 85

Conclusion 92

Chapter 6 Party Affiliation in the Army 95

Deriving Party Affiliation 95

Generic Party Identification 98

Identification with the Republican and Democratic Parties 101

Determinants of Republican Identification 105

The Meaning of Party Affiliation in the Army 109

Soldier and Officer Differences 111

Military and Civilian Differences 111

Republican-Democratic Differences 115

Party Affiliation and Foreign Policy 119

Conclusion 124

Chapter 7 Political Participation 127

Voting 129

Displaying Support 131

Donating Money 131

Determinants of Political Activity 132

Mobility and Ease of Voting 137

Efficacy and Political Participation 139

Partisanship and Political Participation 140

Army Culture 144

Self-Selection Effect 146

Conclusion 149

Chapter 8 The Army's Next Generation 152

Existing Research on Cadets and Socialization 153

Self-Selection 154

The Limits of Socialization 155

Shaping Political Attitudes? 157

The 2004 Cadet Preelection Survey 160

Cadet Demographics 161

The Composition and Role of West Point Instructors 164

Ideology and Party Affiliation 165

Indoctrination or Self-Selection? 166

Demographics 167

Institutional Pressure? 169

Perceptions and Expectations 172

Conclusion 174

Chapter 9 Army Attitudes in 2004 and Beyond 177

Conventional Wisdom and the Reality of Army Attitudes 178

A Generational Shift 184

Chapter 10 The Way Forward 187

The Future of American Civil-Military Relations 187

Leveraging the Institution for Political Gain 191

Fulfilling Professional Obligations 191

Translating Service into Privilege 192

Lessons from the Army's Birthday 194

Update: The 2008 Election 197

Afterword 201

Thoughts on Sparta … 201

… and Babylon 203

Appendix A Citizenship and Service: A 2004 Survey of Army Personnel 207

Survey Method 207

Survey Response 210

Survey Weighting 214

Survey Instrument: C&S Survey 215

Appendix B The 2004 Cadet Preelection Survey 223

Survey Instrument: The 2004 Cadet Preelection Survey 224

Appendix C Comparison Surveys 240

Appendix D The Virtual Army and Virtual Officer Corps 243

Appendix E Rules Governing Political Participation of Members of the Army 245

Appendix F Adjutant General's Absentee Voting Message 247

Bibiliography 249

Index 259

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