By MATTHEW B. STANNARD
San Francisco Chronicle
January 07, 2006
But support for the war and the commander in chief remained higher among readers of Army Times, Navy Times, Air Force Times and Marine Corps Times than in the U.S. population at large.
The newspapers are published by the Gannett chain, not the Pentagon, and the poll was not necessarily representative of the military at large, the report cautioned. The survey, conducted Nov. 14 through Dec. 23, represents the mailed responses of more than 1,000 subscribers who identified themselves as being on active duty.
Nevertheless, the Military Times poll has been cited in the past by opinion writers and politicians taking the temperature of the military.
This latest poll was no exception. The poll's findings are likely to crop up in politics, said sociologist David Segal, director of the Center for Research on Military Organization at the University of Maryland - even though the numbers can be read two ways.
"Were I a strategist for the Democratic Party - which I am not - I would think seriously about using the data to point to the fact that even in the military there is declining support for the war," he said. "(But) while there is a trend toward declining support for the war ... support for the war is still very high."
In fact, the trends exposed in the poll are really not that dramatic or surprising, Segal said.
"The military is a microcosm of society, and trends that you see in public opinion regarding the military are likely to be reproduced within the military," he said.
He and other experts said the military's tendency to follow public trends was evident elsewhere in the poll, such as a slight increase in support for allowing homosexuals to serve openly in the military - up to 27 percent, a number that has increased one or two points in each of the past two years. The overall public support for allowing gays and lesbians to serve is around 58 percent, according to an August survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.
"The military tends to be a conservative institution and changes slower" than the overall population, Segal said, a tendency that is exacerbated by the nature of the Military Times' readership, which tends to be older and include more career officers than the military as a whole.
Nevertheless, Segal and other experts said, the poll's trends are probably a good barometer of the military as a whole.
"It is certainly consistent to what I've been hearing on a face-to-face basis from people in the military," he said.
According to Military Times, 60 percent of respondents said they approved of the job Bush was doing in general, down from 71 percent last year, and 54 percent said they approved of how he was handling the war in Iraq, down from 63 percent last year.
By comparison, Bush's approval rating was just 40 percent in a December New York Times/CBS News Poll, and just 36 percent approved of his handling of the war in Iraq, an increase from an October low of 32 percent.
"You see the trend line (in the Military Times poll) is to be more congruent with the way the general population feels," said Richard Kohn, professor and chair of Curriculum in Peace, War, and Defense at the University of Wisconsin.
Respondents to the Military Times poll - nearly half of whom said they had been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan - were more upbeat on the war's progress than the public as a whole, though less so than in the past.
About 73 percent said the U.S. was very or somewhat likely to succeed in Iraq, a 10-point drop from last year, although an increasing majority - 80 percent - said it would take at least three years and perhaps 10 or more for the United States to reach its goals.
Respondents said they thought civilians, politicians and especially the news media were all taking a dimmer view of those in the military than they did in past years, something Kohn suggested could be linked to overall coverage of the war.
"They think the coverage has been bad, and the lack of success in Iraq is diminishing their image," he said. "They're more depressed about the outcome of the war, and they assume this is spilling over or splashing on them."
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