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Here’s what active troops are saying about Trump and Biden in a new poll

President Donald Trump speaking at a "Keep America Great" rally in Phoenix, Ariz. in February 2020. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr) | Former Vice President of the United States Joe Biden speaking at the 2019 Iowa Federation of Labor Convention in Altoona, Iowa in August 2019. (Gage Skidmore/Flickr)
September 04, 2020

A new poll of active military members, conducted by Military Times and the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, shows Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden leading over Republican President Donald Trump.

On the question of which candidate they support, active service members showed 41.3 percent support for Biden, 37.4 percent for Trump, and 12.8 are voting for a third-party candidate while nine percent said they did not plan on voting altogether.

Military Times reported each polling question had a margin of error of two points and the polling respondents consisted of Military Times subscribers. The poll was conducted between July 27 and Aug. 10 with 1,018 respondents and the average age of poll respondents was 39-years-old.

In terms of favorability, 49.9 percent of troops viewed Trump unfavorably, while 37.8 percent viewed him favorably and 12.3 percent had neutral feelings.

Peter Feaver, a White House adviser to former President George W. Bush, noted the poll skews towards career-oriented service members “which may be different from the junior enlisted view of things.”

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The polling showed officers have stronger negative attitudes towards Trump than enlisted members. 59.1 percent of officers polled said they had an unfavorable view of Trump, with more than half saying they strongly disapprove of his performance. Just 35.1 percent of officers viewed Trump favorably. Among enlisted respondents, 47.1 percent had an unfavorable view of Trump while around 38.7 percent had a favorable view.

Military Times did not report information about Biden’s favorability among respondents and it is unclear if the poll asked about his favorability.

Feaver said, “It’s fair to say that Trump is not as popular as Republican nominees have been in the past among this group. The bottom line is that in 2020, Trump can’t be claiming to have overwhelming support in the military.”

A 2012 Military Times Reader Survey — conducted in a non-scientific fashion — showed respondents favored the then-Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney by a 2.5-to-1 margin.

The current poll, which has been conducted the same way over the past four years, showed Trump had 46.1 favorability in 2016 and 37 percent unfavorability. His support has since dipped with 44.4 percent favorability to 39.7 percent unfavorability in 2017, 43.8 percent favorability to 43.1 percent unfavorability in 2018 and 41.6 percent favorability in 2019 to 49.9 percent unfavorability. Trump’s unfavorability rating did not move from 2019 to 2020 but his favorability rating continued to drop.

In 2016, 40.5 percent of respondents expressed support for Trump, while only 20.6 percent supported then-candidate Hillary Clinton. 34.3 percent of respondents in 2016 said they would support a third party.

On the issues, while Trump has touted efforts to support the military with pay increases, respondents viewed him overwhelmingly negatively on his handling of reports Russia had placed bounties on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 17 percent of respondents thought he appropriately handled the bounty claims, while 47 percent disapproved of his handling.

74 percent of respondents disagreed with Trump’s suggestion of using active-duty military personnel to respond to civil unrest following the death of George Floyd. Around 22 percent supported the idea. By contrast, half of the respondents did support using National Guard troops to respond to the civil unrest.

Respondents did agree with several of Trump’s positions. Respondents overwhelmingly agreed with Trump’s assessment that China poses a national security threat with nearly 87 percent calling it a significant concern, while ranking Russia, at 81 percent, above Iran, at 58 percent.