(AFP) – Jul 2, 2008
WASHINGTON (AFP) — Five years into an unpopular war in Iraq, many US military voters are eschewing their traditional Republican ties to support Democrat Barack Obama for president against John McCain, observers say.
"Ever since the end of the war in Vietnam and the creation of the volunteer military back in 1973, the military has tended more and more to vote for the Republicans," said Lawrence Korb, director of military strategy for the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank.
"I think now you're going to see -- not that it's going to be overwhelming -- but a back away from the Republican Party ... At least (the military vote will) be split this year rather than overwhelmingly Republican," said Korb, a deputy defense secretary under president Ronald Reagan.
He predicted that McCain, the 71-year-old Republican senator for Arizona, will get "at most half of the military votes," instead of the three-to-one ratio that Republican President George W. Bush won in 2004.
The main reason for the defection is the Iraq war, where 4,113 US troops have died since the 2003 invasion and for which the US government has come under fire even from the military, despite recent security improvements.
Voting intentions are difficult to assess because of the view among military personnel that they are apolitical, but available data suggests a steady erosion in support for the policies of the Bush administration.
A Los Angeles Times survey of 1,467 people, including 631 soldiers, veterans and their families, in late 2007 found that 57 percent of military respondents believed the Iraq war was not worth fighting -- nearly the same as the overall population (60 percent).
Asked which party they trusted most to handle important issues, the military families chose Democrats over Republicans 39-35 percent, compared to a 39-31 percent ratio among the general population.
In its annual reader surveys, the Military Times specialist news group found Bush's approval rate among the military had plummeted from 60 percent in 2005 to just 48 percent in 2007.
It remains to be seen whether Obama, 47, will be able to cash in on this discontent given his lack of military experience and the perception of Democrats as "soft" on defense, and in the face of McCain's Vietnam war record.
"One of Obama's challenges is that soldiers who served in Iraq want to win in Iraq so that the sacrifices they and others have made is worthy," said Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University and former Bush advisor.
"The McCain message, who says we are going to prevail in Iraq and leave after victory, is more appealing to them than Obama's message (that) we are going to leave even if we lose."
The Democratic senator for Illinois recently scored points by backing a law offering financial support to help veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to return to education -- a law that both McCain and Bush opposed.
The issue is a sensitive one, as the Bush administration has been repeatedly accused of failing to provide sufficient equipment and care for US soldiers.
Obama also has a trump card in his appeal to demographic groups over-represented in the military, including blacks, who make up 13 percent of the US population and 17 percent of the army.
"Obama's core demographic, the groups of people he appeals to most, are African-American and young people and that is the demographic that is disproportionally represented in the military," Feaver said.
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