- The Washington Times - Friday, July 9, 2004

President Bush could not have won the Electoral College in 2000 without the military vote, and that vote is shaping up to go his way again on Nov. 2, military analysts and pollsters from both sides say.

“When we look at the veterans’ vote and the military vote, it looks like it’s going pretty solidly for the president,” Democrat pollster Celinda Lake said.

Total voter turnout — civilian, current and retired military — was 105 million in 2000. Last year, the Defense Department reported that 1.4 million men and women were on active duty and an additional 882,000 were in the reserves. But experts define the military vote as far larger than that.

“Among the electorate, 30 percent of households have at least one member on active duty or a veteran,” Republican pollster Ed Goeas said. “These households tend to vote Republican by a six-point margin over Democrats.”

If the election were held tomorrow, those active-duty, reserve and veteran votes would go to Mr. Bush by a margin of 52 percent to 44 percent, according to the June 20 to 23 bipartisan Battleground Poll of likely voters that Ms. Lake conducted with Mr. Goeas.

The poll confirms that, so far, Sen. John Kerry’s status as decorated Vietnam War veteran has given him no boost in this military vote, both pollsters agree.

They also agree that large populations of military voters and their families are not scattered evenly across the country, but are concentrated in a number of states. And many of those states — most notably Florida — are considered battlegrounds in the war to win the Electoral College, where presidents are chosen.

“Perhaps the best way to understand the importance of the military vote is to look at the outcome of 2000 in Florida,” said Loren Thompson, chief operating officer of the Lexington Institute, a think tank focusing on national defense issues.

“If Eglin [Air Force Base] were in Alabama instead of Florida, Al Gore would be in the White House,” he said. “The margin was that close, and the military vote went heavily Republican.”

Because television networks have promised not to declare a winner before the polls close as they did in 2000 in Florida and other states, the military vote is expected to be even more important. This is expected to be especially true in Florida, where a contentious recount, including absentee military ballots, and a Supreme Court decision finally tipped the Electoral College in Mr. Bush’s favor.

The Republican’s victory margin in Florida was 537 votes, which gave the president the state’s 25 electoral votes, for a 271 vote total in the Electoral College — one more vote than the 270 needed to win.

All sides agree that the military vote, including absentee ballots from active-duty warriors abroad, made the difference — even though Democrats succeeded in having thousands of those ballots declared invalid because the military had failed to postmark the envelopes containing the ballots.

Duval County has the greatest concentration of military families of Florida’s 67 counties. In Duval alone, 618 ballots came from overseas absentee voters in 2000.

Of the 469 overseas ballots declared valid, more than twice as many went to Mr. Bush than went to Al Gore. No record was made, however, of how many of the overseas absentee total were military ballots.

But experts say that since the advent of the all-volunteer armed services 31 years ago, recent veterans — such as current active-duty members — tend to be more conservative than those from the military draft era.

“If you are military now, you are more likely to be Republican and conservative than your civilian counterpart,” said Peter D. Feaver, director of the Triangle Institute for Security Studies at Duke University. “If you are black and in the military, you are also more likely to be conservative and Republican than blacks not in the military.”

Nine out of every 10 black votes overall went to Al Gore in 2000. Mr. Bush won 54 percent of the overall white vote. No national figures are available for what the total military votes were or how many went to each candidate.

Democrats predict that more of the military than usual will go their way this November because extended-duty tours and continuing causalities have antagonized a growing number of families of those serving in Iraq and have driven some to Mr. Kerry.

“Usually active-duty military follows the commander in chief, but in this election, I think their families are going to vote for John Kerry,” said Scott Maddox, Florida Democratic party chairman.

Ms. Lake says “there is evidence” that Democrats are doing better with the spouses of active-duty military people. But experts say predictions about the families of those on active duty are based on anecdotes, not polling.

Even so, Mr. Thompson says in “an electorate almost evenly split on many key issues, the military vote can be critical to carrying at least 10 states. There are only four states in the entire nation that don’t have military bases.”

The military vote may help Mr. Bush even in a nonbattleground states such as California, where there is a large concentration of military, including between 60,000 and 75,000 on active duty.

The state went for Al Gore in 2000, but that was before the September 11 terror attacks on New York and Washington, the surprise election of movie idol Arnold Schwarzenegger as the first Republican governor of California since Pete Wilson’s re-election in 1995, and Mr. Bush’s becoming a wartime president.

Mr. Goeas said the Democratic presidential candidate’s normal 12 percentage-point edge in California “seems to be diminishing.” One explanation might be the state’s heavy military vote. Hispanics, who are disproportionately represented in that vote, now show signs of moving toward Mr. Bush, he said.

He said New Jersey also bears watching. It usually votes for the Democrat, but has several large military bases and an unpopular Democratic governor.

Yet another possible surprise in the making: Hawaii, which voted Democratic in the past three presidential elections, but has a tendency to vote for the incumbent. That coupled with its high concentration of military-related families makes it “winnable” for the president, Mr. Goeas says.

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