WASHINGTON - The Pentagon's efforts to promote voting in the military could be a significant boon to President Bush if the election is close, according to a poll by the National Annenberg Election Survey.
Although a 1948 law prohibits polling members of the armed services on who they intend to vote for, a scientific sampling of the military about their views on President Bush and Sen. John Kerry shows overwhelming support for the President.
Adam Clymer, political director for the Annenberg Public Policy Center, said that while the military tends to support the commander in chief and is more Republican than the population at large, he found it surprising that the degree of support is as high as it is during a controversial war.
The survey was done with the help of the military.
Sixty-nine percent of the military sample of 655 adults who are or have been in active duty this year said they have a favorable impression of the President, compared with 49 percent of the general public.
Only 29 percent said they have a favorable impression of Mr. Kerry, compared with 44 percent of the general public. Sixty-four percent say the country is going in the right direction, compared with 37 percent of the general population.
This fits with an unscientific e-mail survey by the Military Times of 4,000 of its readers, who said that Mr. Bush is favored by 73 percent compared with 18 percent who like Mr. Kerry, a decorated Vietnam War veteran.
Military Times, cautioning its survey is not representative of the military as a whole, sent out 31,000 e-mails, getting replies from 2,754 active-duty military personnel and 1,411 reserve and National Guard members who subscribe to the Army Times, the Navy Times, the Marine Corps Times, and the Air Force Times.
This year, the Pentagon has significantly stepped up its efforts to promote voting at military bases around the globe and throughout the United States. Absentee voter booklets have been distributed to troops in Iraq. Officers are telling soldiers and sailors it's their duty to vote. Military Web sites offer voting information, and officers have been dispatched to help register military personnel and supply them with information on where to vote as well as voting procedures.
As part of a policy developed by the Pentagon to promote voting, Oct. 11 to Oct. 16 has been designated "Absentee Voting Week," and every military unit has been assigned a "voting assistance officer." The Pentagon says this is a bipartisan effort, aimed at fixing problems in 2000, when some military ballots without postmarks were thrown out. In Florida, that became a major controversy.
Peter Feaver, a political science professor specializing in politics and the military at Duke University, has been widely quoted saying that the emphasis on military and voting this year stems from the war in Iraq, the war on terrorism, the closeness of the election, Mr. Kerry's efforts to line up support among retired military officers, and Mr. Bush's emphasis on the importance of national security.
Asked about character traits, military personnel said Mr. Bush was more caring, a better leader, more in tune with them on their values, more consistent, and more optimistic than Mr. Kerry. They also found Mr. Bush to be more "stubborn" than his opponent.
Asked if the war in Iraq was worth fighting, 64 percent said yes, with 32 percent disagreeing. But of those deployed in Iraq or Afghanistan, 55 percent said the war was worth it.
Among Americans in general, 51 percent now say the war in Iraq has not been worth the cost in lives or money or lost prestige abroad.
Of six possible reasons for going to war, the reason that got the largest response from the military sample - 29 percent - was getting rid of Saddam Hussein. The next - 23 percent - said it was because Iraq was helping terrorists. Only 11 percent said it was because of Iraq's oil.
Forty-seven percent of the military sample said that the war in Iraq has reduced the risk of terrorist attacks in the United States. Among Americans as a whole, 53 percent say the war in Iraq has increased the risk of terrorist attacks at home.
The military sample also holds Mr. Kerry's anti-Vietnam war activism against him more than the general public does.
Asked about Vice President Dick Cheney, a former Secretary of Defense, 54 percent of the military sample have a favorable view of him. In the general public, 34 percent view Mr. Cheney favorably.
The official most admired in the military sample is Secretary of State Colin Powell, a former general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who received an 80 percent favorable opinion. In contrast, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld got a 53 percent favorable rating.
More data to be released by Annenberg today shows two of three in the military sample said the administration underestimated the number of troops needed in Iraq.
The Annenberg survey also found disagreement with the Pentagon's policy of prohibiting photographs of flag-draped coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq when they are returned to the Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.
On another issue, 42 percent said gays and lesbians should be permitted to serve openly in the armed services [the current policy is don't ask, don't tell], while 50 percent disagreed.
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