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Veterans Solidly Back McCain

PRINCETON, NJ -- With both presidential candidates addressing the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention this week (John McCain on Monday and Barack Obama on Tuesday), Gallup finds that registered voters who have served in the U.S. military solidly back McCain over Obama, 56% to 34%.

This is based on aggregated data from Aug. 5-17 Gallup Poll Daily tracking, involving interviews with more than 11,000 registered voters, including 2,238 military veterans. Veterans are defined as those who are or have been members of the U.S. military. Obama leads McCain 46% to 43% among all registered voters during this time.

The veteran vote is of some interest this year given McCain's notable service in the U.S. Navy, including several years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam. Obama did not serve in the U.S. military.

But even without the distinction provided this year by McCain's well-known military service, veterans tend to be Republican in their political orientation, and Republican candidates generally fare better than Democratic candidates among this voting group. For example, in Gallup's final pre-election poll in 2004, 55% of registered voters who had served in the military backed George W. Bush, compared with 39% who supported John Kerry.

It is notable, then, that McCain is doing only about as well among military veterans as Bush did in 2004, despite the two Republican candidates' varying military backgrounds. (Bush was in the Texas Air National Guard, but did not serve overseas.)

Veterans' affinity for the Republican Party is confirmed by the finding that 47% of those who have served in the military currently identify with or lean to the Republican Party while 39% identify with or lean to the Democratic Party. By comparison, 48% of all U.S. adults are Democratic in their party orientation and 37% are Republican.

Even if it wasn't for their shared military service, veterans' alignment with McCain would not be surprising given the demographic composition of the group. Veterans are overwhelmingly male (91% of the veterans in the sample are men) and tend to be older (the majority are aged 50 or above). Those also happen to be two of McCain's stronger voting constituencies in this campaign.

The Effect of Being a Veteran on the Vote

But how much does being a veteran influence one's choice for president? Does McCain's support among veterans reflect some effect borne of their shared military service, or does it merely reflect veterans' alignment with the GOP?

Given the large sample size of veterans, one can assess the relative importance of both factors by looking at veterans' candidate preferences, taking into account their party affiliation.

The accompanying graph shows the presidential preferences of Republicans and Republican leaners based on their military service. The data show that there is a small effect of being a veteran over and above party affiliation, but party is clearly the dominant factor influencing vote choice. Among Republicans and Republican leaners, McCain is the choice of 89% of veterans compared with 83% of non-veterans, a difference of 6 percentage points.

There is also a 6-point difference in McCain's support among Democrats and Democratic leaners who have served in the military (17%) as opposed to those who have not done so (11%), but Obama is the overwhelming choice of Democratic supporters regardless of military service.


McCain clearly holds an advantage over Obama among veterans, but that is probably due more to the fact that veterans tend to be Republicans than to the fact that McCain himself served in the military and is regarded by some as a war hero. Veterans showed similarly strong support for Bush in the 2004 presidential election. The data suggest there still is an effect of military service on candidate preference, but it is rather small and is overwhelmed by the effects of party affiliation.

Survey Methods

Results are based on telephone interviews with 11,593 registered voters, aged 18 and older, conducted Aug. 5-17, 2008, as part of Gallup Poll Daily tracking. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±1 percentage point.

For results based on the sample of 2,238 military veterans who are registered to vote, the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.

Interviews are conducted with respondents on land-line telephones (for respondents with a land-line telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell-phone only).

In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.

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