- The Washington Times - Monday, August 31, 2020

More active-duty U.S. troops say they’ll back Vice President Joseph R. Biden instead of President Trump in the November election, a new poll shows, continuing a steady decline in the president’s favorability rating among a bloc of voters that usually leans solidly Republican.

A Military Times survey released Monday found that if the election were held today, 41% of active-duty troops say they’d vote for the Democratic nominee, compared to just 37% for the president. Another 13% said they intend to back a third-party candidate, while 9% said they’d skip the presidential election altogether. The Military Times surveyed 1,018 active-duty troops for the poll.

The results come as the president gears up for the home stretch of the campaign and as he and other Republicans count on strong military support at the polls in November. Rebuilding the military and winding down “endless wars” abroad, the president argues, are among the signature achievements of his time in office.

Mr. Trump has made those claims a cornerstone of his reelection pitch and again highlighted them during his nomination speech at the Republican National Convention last week. He’s also routinely cited the raises he has secured for service members after years of essentially flat pay rates.

“Unlike previous administrations I have kept America out of new wars, and our troops are coming home,” he said during his RNC address. “We have spent nearly $2.5 trillion on completely rebuilding our military, which was very badly depleted when I took office, as you know. This includes three separate pay raises for our great warriors.”

Despite all of that, Mr. Trump’s favorability within the military has steadily fallen over the past several years. At the start of his tenure in January 2017, 46% of service members had a positive view of Mr. Trump, compared to 37% who said they had an unfavorable opinion.

The most recent survey — conducted in late July and early August, before both parties held their conventions — found that 49.9% of troops now have an unfavorable opinion of the president, compared to 38% who have a favorable view. The poll has a margin of error of up to 2%.

Perhaps even more concerning for the president, 42% of military respondents say they “strongly disapprove” of Mr. Trump’s time in office, suggesting that a strong plurality of troops may be highly motivated to vote for Mr. Biden.

Some say Mr. Trump’s sometimes testy relations with military leaders and the Pentagon have cost him.

“Mr. Trump has failed to deliver for the military, national defense, and national security,” retired Army Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman tweeted Monday. Lt. Col. Vindman had a 21-year career in the Army but was removed from the White House’s National Security Council in February after the president alleged that he and his twin brother falsely reported information about Mr. Trump’s phone calls with Ukraine’s president last year.

Those conversations led to Mr. Trump’s impeachment by the House earlier this year.

“Nothing can be more damning than a [Republican administration] losing the support of military personnel and their families,” Lt. Col. Vindman said in his Twitter post. “We do not need four more years of failure.”

Over the past four years, the Trump administration has succeeded in drawing down the number of troops in Afghanistan and Syria, and has beefed up Pentagon budgets. Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence also created the Space Force, the military’s first new branch in 75 years.

But the president also has taken a host of actions viewed as unpopular within the military, including dispatching forces to the U.S.-Mexico border. More recently, Mr. Trump has threatened to use active-duty forces to suppress riots and civil unrest across the country.

Those threats were seen as deeply disturbing within the top ranks of the military and even led Secretary of Defense Mark Esper to publicly break with Mr. Trump on the issue. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Mark Milley also publicly apologized for appearing alongside the president in his battle uniform in downtown Washington during protests in June.

Mr. Trump also has been at odds with military leadership over efforts to change the names of Army bases that honor Confederate generals, with the president vehemently opposing any such changes to their names.

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