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U.S. Confidence in Military Reflects Perceived Competency

U.S. Confidence in Military Reflects Perceived Competency

Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • Americans perceive the military as effective, well-run and skilled
  • Many are confident in the military because of its important role
  • Americans see military leaders as courageous and professional

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans have given the military the highest confidence rating of any institution in American society for nearly two decades. Asked to explain these positive views, Americans cite their perceptions of the professional and competent way in which the military has executed its responsibilities, followed by a focus on the importance of what the military does for the country.

What are some of the reasons why you have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military?
Asked of those with a great deal/quite a lot of confidence in the military
Great deal/Quite a lot of confidence
Competence; How well they do their job
History/Past experiences/Has been effective/Good execution 9
Good leadership/Properly run/Good structure 7
Properly trained/Skilled 6
Best in the world/Strongest 5
Good funding 4
Good equipment, weapons, technology 1
The importance of what they do
Protects us, our rights/Keeps us safe/Defends freedom 26
Personal connection -- self or friend
Friend/family member served in military 13
Respondent served in military 9
Positives about the people who serve
Volunteers/Selfless/Willing to give up lives/Brave 12
Good/Reliable/Committed/Disciplined people 10
Other 9
None/No opinion 2
Note: Responses will add to more than 100% since multiple responses were allowed
Gallup, July 5-9, 2017

These results are based on an open-ended question included in Gallup's July 5-9 national survey, asking Americans who have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in the military to explain, in their own words, why they are confident. Overall, 78% of respondents had a "great deal" or "quite a lot" of confidence, roughly similar to the 72% in Gallup's annual June update.

Americans' explanations focused on the competency of the military include references to its historical effectiveness in accomplishing its objectives, its leadership, the skills of its members, and perceptions that the U.S. military is the world's best. About a quarter say their confidence in the military is based on the importance of the job they do in keeping the nation safe.

Many Americans also cite personal experiences with the military, involving themselves or their families and friends. Still others discuss the positive virtues of the service members, including views that those in the military are selfless and brave, committed and disciplined.

Courage and Professionalism Top List of Military Leadership Virtues

A question included in a late March, early April Gallup survey sheds additional light on the public's view of the military. Americans were asked to indicate how well each of six terms described military leadership today. Almost seven in 10 agreed that the descriptor "personally courageous" described military leadership very well, followed by 56% who said the same about the term "professional." Fewer Americans said the terms "trustworthy," "innovative," "honest," and "ethical" described military leadership very well, although most said these terms described them somewhat well.

How well do each of the following terms describe military leadership today?
Very well Somewhat Not much Not at all
% % % %
Personally courageous 68 25 3 3
Professional 56 35 4 4
Trustworthy 42 42 9 6
Innovative 41 39 10 6
Honest 37 45 9 7
Ethical 37 45 9 6
Gallup, April 24-May 2, 2017

These responses were focused on leadership, rather than the military as a whole, but underscore two of the main results of the open-ended question -- positive characteristics of people who are in the military and the competent way in which these people execute their responsibilities.


The American military clearly is not flawless, but it has a two-decade track record of besting any other major institution in American society on Gallup's confidence rating system. This accomplishment certainly underscores the value of studying what is behind its strong positioning in the minds of the American people.

For example, what could members of Congress who are worried about their low standing in the public's eye learn from the military? One insight simply comes down to competence -- that is getting the job done well -- obviously a trait many Americans ascribe to the military, but few to Congress, with the latter's current 20% job approval rating.

Another insight comes from the public's view of members of the military as being courageous, selfless and being willing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Previous research shows that Americans, in contrast, view members of Congress as being responsive not to the collective will of the people, but to special interests, lobbyists and partisan leaders.

There are other lessons to be learned, but the bottom line is the real value of perceived competency and professionalism for any institution that seeks to establish legitimacy and to better its standing in the eyes of the people it serves.

These data are available in Gallup Analytics.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted July 5-9, 2017, with a random sample of 1,021 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.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

Learn more about how the Gallup Poll Social Series works.

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