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Americans Give Military Branches Similar High Marks

Americans Give Military Branches Similar High Marks

by Jim Norman

Story Highlights

  • More than three in four view each branch favorably
  • For each branch, a majority have a strongly favorable opinion
  • Republicans, whites, older adults have most favorable opinions

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Heading into Memorial Day, the five branches of the U.S. military earn high marks from the public they defend and protect. Strong majorities of Americans who are familiar with the branches give them similar, high favorable ratings.

Americans Like the Military -- All Five Branches
On a scale from one to five, where five means you have a very favorable opinion and one means you have a very unfavorable opinion, how would you rate your opinion of the [Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard]?
Army Navy Air Force Marines Coast Guard
% % % % %
Very favorable 53 55 57 59 54
Somewhat favorable 24 23 24 19 22
Neither favorable nor unfavorable 17 15 14 16 16
Somewhat unfavorable 4 4 3 3 4
Very unfavorable 3 2 2 2 2
Answers based on those who say they know "a lot," "some" or "a little" about the branch
GALLUP, April 24-May 2

Whether expressing their opinions about the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard, more than three in four of those Americans who know something about the branches have overall favorable views, and more than half have a strongly favorable opinion. Those views are consistent with Americans' high ratings of the military in general. In Gallup's annual Confidence in Institutions poll, the military has topped the list every year since 1998, with at least 72% expressing "a great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence in the military in the past eight years.

Republicans, Whites, Older Americans View Branches More Favorably

Differences emerge, however, by political party, race and age. Republicans, non-Hispanic whites and those aged 55 and older who are aware of each branch are much more likely to have strongly favorable views of each of the five branches than are Democrats, nonwhites or those younger than 35.

Very Favorable Opinions Vary Among Subgroups
Percentage who have a very favorable opinion of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard
Army Navy Air Force Marines Coast Guard
% % % % %
All adults 53 55 57 59 54
Democrats + leaners 38 39 42 45 46
Republicans + leaners 70 74 74 76 65
Non-Hispanic whites 56 60 57 62 58
Nonwhites, including Hispanics 45 43 55 52 43
18 to 34 37 41 43 44 38
35 to 54 54 53 57 61 62
55 and older 63 66 65 69 58
Answers based on those who say they know "a lot," "some" or "a little" about the branch
GALLUP, April 24-May 2

The biggest gaps in favorable opinion are between Republicans and Democrats (including those who lean to either party). The largest is a 35-percentage-point difference in views toward the Navy, with 74% of Republicans versus 39% of Democrats having strongly favorable views.

Air Force Now Seen as Most Important Branch

Americans familiar with the individual branches of the military are about as likely to think favorably of one branch as another, but in a separate question, Americans in general distinguish among the branches when considering their importance to national defense. The largest percentage (27%) say the Air Force is the most important branch, while about one in five name the Army (21%), Navy and Marines (20% each). Just 4% consider the Coast Guard the most important branch to national defense.

An earlier version of the question showed the largest share of Americans naming the Air Force as most important in May 2001, four months before the 9/11 terrorist attacks, and in April 2002, after the onset of the Afghanistan War. But once the Iraq War began in 2003, with the large-scale invasion by Army ground troops, the largest percentage of Americans picked the Army in 2004, 2011 and 2014.

Bottom Line

This Memorial Day, Americans will once again have the opportunity to honor those who fought and died in service of their country. It comes at a time when the percentage of Americans who are military veterans continues to shrink, even as the nation moves through the 15th year of the Afghanistan War -- the longest war in U.S. history.

But neither the dwindling percentage of Americans having served in the military nor shrinking support for the Afghanistan War has caused the public to lose confidence in the military. Nor have they caused Americans to turn against any of the five branches that provide for the nation's defense.

Among some population subgroups -- Democrats, those under 35, nonwhites -- less than a majority have strongly favorable views of the different branches. Even among those groups, however, clear majorities have either a somewhat favorable or a strongly favorable view of every branch.

The lack of major differences in favorable opinions from one branch to another does not necessarily mean that the public makes no distinctions among them. Americans have no problem drawing those distinctions when considering which branch is most important or which is most prestigious. But, at least for now, they find little reason in most cases to differentiate in their favorable -- or unfavorable -- opinions of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines or Coast Guard.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted April 24-May 2, 2017, with a random sample of 1,026 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 70% cellphone respondents and 30% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

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