A Surprising Poll

Trump is less popular with the troops that one might assume.

Via the Military Times: Trump’s popularity slips in latest Military Times poll — and more troops say they’ll vote for Biden

…the Military Times Polls, surveying active-duty troops in partnership with the Institute for Veterans and Military Families (IVMF) at Syracuse University, have seen a steady drop in troops’ opinion of the commander in chief since his election four years ago.

In the latest results — based on 1,018 active-duty troops surveyed in late July and early August — nearly half of respondents (49.9 percent) had an unfavorable view of the president, compared to about 38 percent who had a favorable view. Questions in the poll had a margin of error of up to 2 percent.

In graphic form:

Granted, this one poll, although the write-up provides some context:

The unfavorable number matches what an earlier Military Times Poll found in late 2019, while the favorable total slipped from just under 42 percent last year. In a poll conducted at the start of Trump’s presidency, 46 percent of troops had a favorable view of him, versus 37 percent who had an unfavorable opinion.

Still, I was somewhat surprised given that conventional wisdom seems to assume that Trump is overwhelmingly popular in the military.

Worth noting is that that 12.8% will almost certainly be mostly redistributed Trump and Biden.

It is also interesting that in this poll Trump approval of ~38% is withing striking distance of what his floor tends to be in the broader population.

Update: This is not a scientific poll, and therefore should be treated as such.

FILED UNDER: 2020 Election, Public Opinion Polls, US Politics,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. inhumans99 says:

    Yesterday, there was a Politico story that talks about surrogates of the Trump campaign planning to try and Swift Boat Biden but this poll is bad news in that swift boating Biden will be an uphill battle. I also suspect that Biden is prepared to push back against Swift Boat type attempts to define him and I could be misremembering (it has been awhile) but it feels like Kerry got some grief from folks because he did not do a good job telling the swift boat guys to pound sand.

    I suspect the lack of push back will not be an issue with Biden as he seems to be listening to his savvy campaign team and so far has not generated a statement to hang around his neck like it is what it is.

    We have finally reached September and while not quite in the home stretch we are tantalizingly close to election day, and it is great that Trump has so far not been able to define Biden like he had Clinton (who by this point in the campaign had already been defined by the GOP 10 ways to Sunday).

  2. Michael Reynolds says:

    They can smell Trump’s weakness.

  3. Kathy says:

    I suppose actual troops know when Trump is lying about what he claims to have done for the military (which is every time he makes any claims), as well as when he has used them as props for his agenda.

    Also, I suppose his shabby treatment of respected high military officers like Mattis and Kelly don’t play well with the troops.

    And there’s that wall money he took from their budget.

  4. CSK says:

    @Michael Reynolds:
    They’ve had almost 4 years to witness that weakness on flagrant display: Trump’s kowtowing to Putin, his love affair with Kim Jong-Un, his abject terror in the face of intelligent women…as Tom Nichols observed, Trump is the least manly president we’ve ever had, which is why his appeal to non-military working class white men, who prize macho, is so mystifying.

    This is a man who fusses more over his make-up and hair than most women do.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    I keep reading that Trump’s approval is down among the educated, among women, among the olds (like me), and now the military. But his overall approval never seems to drop. Last time I looked at 538 it was actually up a couple points. Can he be gaining that much with no college white males? Who’s he gaining with?

  6. KM says:

    Still, I was somewhat surprised given that conventional wisdom seems to assume that Trump is overwhelmingly popular in the military.

    To be accurate, the conventional wisdom is that conservative / GOP candidates do better with the military and people just kinda assumed Trump would benefit from that. Trump on the other hand has actively taken money from the military (more specially from their families ie base housing), let a popular commander protecting his men from COVID get hosed for political reasons, insulted various military figures left and right, caused chaos in the command structure and now very, VERY publicly do nothing about the recent transgressions Russia has committed against the troops. 7 soldiers injured when a Russian armored vehicle hit a patrol, Russian jets dangerously veering close to our pilots and bounties on the heads of our people being unanswered….. yeah, it gets noticed by the rank and file that POTUS doesn’t seem to have their backs.

    In fact, if he *didn’t* take a hit in the polls, that would be the surprise.

  7. Monala says:

    @inhumans99: I think people also underestimate how quick-witted Biden is. Prior to his VP announcement, when a Fox news reporter saw him bike-riding in Delaware and asked who his VP would be, he replied (without losing his pace or having to take a breath), “You, of course!”

    And recently, as Biden arrived in Pittsburgh to deliver pizzas to EMTs, a man with a Trump flag started heckling him from the top of a truck. Biden quipped, “Don’t jump!”

    He’s able to handle things thrown at him.

  8. NBH says:

    The limited amount of demographic breakdowns had some unexpected oddities. I was not expecting Trump to be 8 points underwater in favorability with “whites non-hispanic”. I expected close to even if not slightly positive. “Minorities” having the smallest favorable rating (24.5) was expected, but “minorities” also having the smallest unfavorable rating (45.6, still the second biggest gap between unfavorable and favorable) was odd. And wow does the polled officer class dislike Trump with a 59.1-35.1 unfavorable to favorable split.

  9. CSK says:

    Many of those military people who hate Trump are probably combat veterans, and believe me, no one has more contempt for a chickensh!t blowhard weakling like Trump than those who’ve acquitted themselves honorably in a shooting war. And they’d never brag the way he does.

  10. Scott says:

    As a 20 year vet who’s been retired for the last 20 years, I would take this poll with a grain of salt. It is pretty unscientific. The only goodness to it is that the methodology has remained the same for the last four years. So trends can be a data point. I can tell you something else also. Even though I have been close to the defense community for 40 years, I really don’t have a feel for what people’s beliefs are. We just don’t talk about it much. I can only tell you what I believe.

  11. wr says:

    I’m no expert on the military mind, god knows, but I’ve got to think that learning your president has known for months that Russia is paying to have your fellow troops murdered in Afghanistan and has not only done nothing, but refused to even mention it to Putin, might outweigh your devotion to triggering the libs.

  12. Scott says:

    I hate to break it to you all but the I suspect the big issue among military members is the big planned cuts to the Defense Health System with clinic closures, reduced appointment availability and outsourcing to the civilian sector. The big news issues like Russian bounties, foreign policy debacles, etc. don’t really match up against the long term irritation factors of not getting a prompt pediatrician appointment when you need it.

  13. @Scott:

    It is pretty unscientific.

    You are correct. I normally read the methodology before I post about any poll, and I did not in this case.

  14. inhumans99 says:


    You make a great point and it highlights the saying that politics is what is in your backyard (or I think the saying is close to that…too lazy to google), and this issue that directly impacts soldiers and their families is indeed more likely to sour troops on voting for Trump again, as it is also evidence things are not better for them than they were 4 years back.

    Tangent, I mentioned that by this point Clinton had been crazy well defined by the GOP so I decided to google when Lock Her Up really started to become a thing and a WAPO story I stumbled into seems to indicate that the saying gained traction the next day after it was used during a rally in July (I think late July). So…that does seem to validate my point that if Trump has not already defined his opponent as of now that there is not much he can say or do between now and the election to change the public’s opinion of Biden.

    So basically, Clinton was indeed well defined before August even rolled around and with no way to back up my words I will say she was probably toast before August 01 rolled around and her performance at the debates, etc., really was not going to do all that much to get the “undecided” voters in the states she ultimately lost back on her side.

    Trump lost a massive window of opportunity to define Biden and make the election a real horse race but to give credit where credit is due James and Steven were bold and felt that Trump’s re-election chances were starting to look pretty grim sometime back in July (or maybe late June), some folks on this site gave them flack for prematurely declaring that Trump was most likely to lose as they said there was a ton of time between then and the election but it is probably crazy difficult even for the GOP to make up all the ground that Trump has lost over the past 30 days.

    Back to the military, the inability to get convenient and good healthcare for a family member is as good a reason to vote against Trump as his ignoring the bounties put out on our soldiers so I can care less if major stories like the bounties, pulling military funds for the border wall, etc., are not causing outrage among the troops because if lousy healthcare access is what gets them to notice Trump should not stay in the White House another 4 years I and I am sure many others will take what we can get when it comes to issues that encourage folks to vote for Biden.

  15. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @gVOR08: I would think that it is possible that the difference might be that undecideds are finally coming down as negative. In that case his approval rate would not shift but the overall difference would widen.

  16. An Interested Party says:

    @Monala: The political genius who had the brilliant idea to try to paint Biden as senile and feeble needs to find a new line of work…setting the bar so incredibly low has allowed Biden to continually step over it very easily and makes him look a hell of a lot more capable and focused than the other guy who can’t even walk down a ramp without assistance…