Popular approval for the military has declined sharply in lockstep with America’s deepening political divide, a poll found. Liberals are decrying what they say is rise of right-wing extremism in the ranks. Conservatives are bashing what they say is a “woke” military more focused on advancing social programs than on fighting wars.
The result, according to the new survey out from the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation, is that a majority of Americans now say that senior leaders in the Pentagon are overly focused on politics rather than war fighting, while the military services’ traditionally high favorability ratings have fallen sharply as well.
“Just four years ago, 70% of survey respondents said they had a great deal of trust and confidence in the military. However, that percentage has steadily declined,” the Reagan Foundation said in an analysis accompanying the survey results.
Last year, only 45% of Americans had the highest confidence level in the military. That trend does seem to be stabilizing, with 48% now expressing a “great deal” of trust and confidence in the armed forces. But the rating is down more than 20 points compared with just a few years ago.
No other public institution, including Congress, the Supreme Court, the presidency, or the media, has seen as sharp a decline in public trust as the U.S. armed forces, the study noted.
On Thursday, a Pentagon spokesman said he hadn’t read the survey and declined to comment on its findings. Air Force Brig. Gen. Patrick Ryder called the U.S. military “the best fighting organization the world has ever seen.”
“When you consider the breadth and scope of the missions, and the effectiveness of the fighting men and women who serve around the world, many of them in harm’s way, it’s pretty incredible,” Brig. Gen. Ryder said. “Americans can be very, very proud of their military.”
However, more than half of the respondents to the survey questioned the performance and competence of the Defense Departments senior civilian and military leadership.
“There has been a decline in those who believe U.S. military leadership is the best in the world compared to other countries’ militaries, from 33% in 2021 to 25% in 2022,” according to the Reagan Foundation study.
Exactly half of those polled said so-called “woke” practices undermine military effectiveness, 46% said their lower opinion of the military reflected fears that too many far-right or extremist individuals are in uniform.
The military’s perception problem is having a real-world impact on filling the ranks, according to the survey. Only 13% of 18 to 29-year-olds said they were “highly willing” to enlist, with 25% saying they were “somewhat willing.” The Reagan Foundation found that 20% are “not very willing” to enlist while 26% said they weren’t willing at all to join the military.
At the end of the 2022 fiscal year on Oct. 1, the Army fell short of its recruiting goals by at least 15,000 soldiers. The service was forced to cut its authorization end strength by the same number.
“Unfortunately, 2023 is shaping up to be even more challenging. All the military services are experiencing difficulties. The Army, because they need the most people, is having the most difficulties,” retired Army Lt. Gen. Thomas Spoehr, director of the Heritage Foundation’s Center for National Defense, said Tuesday during an event examining the military’s current recruiting problems.
Republicans on Capitol Hill have slammed President Biden and his administration, saying the White House and Pentagon leaders are weakening the U.S. military by pursuing a progressive agenda such as diversity and identity politics rather than focusing on threats facing the nation.
Republicans Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida and Rep. Chip Roy of Texas recently released “Woke Warfighters,” a study that examined the current state of affairs in what they said was an increasingly politicized military.
“Rather than making the case for American greatness and protecting our nation, the military is parroting woke nonsense. It’s dumb, it doesn’t work and it’s dangerous,” Mr. Rubio said after the report was released. “We need to spend more time thinking about how to counter Chinese aircraft carriers and less time thinking about pronouns.”
On Tuesday, Mr. Roy was one of four GOP members of Congress to sign a letter to top Republicans and Democrats on the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, opposing passage of the pending Defense Department authorization bill unless the Pentagon ends the Defense Department’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate. Also, it shouldn’t be used to fund “green” climate projects or diversity, equity, and inclusion measures.
“‘Woke’ provisions are divisive and undermine the primary purpose of the NDAA, which is to provide our braver service members the resources they need to defend our country — that’s it,” they wrote. “The American taxpayers deserve an NDAA that will support the national security objectives of our nation and not undermine them.”