I can’t say a lot of things that happen in politics surprises me mostly because of the incredibly slow pace of change in the American system. This nugget of information in a Reuters article, however, is very surprising:
If the election were held today, Obama would win the veteran vote by as much as seven points over Romney.
This is a very significant change in the political leanings of veterans and a big change since the last presidential election. As stated here, Obama lost the veteran vote in 2008 by ten points and John Kerry, a veteran himself, lost by sixteen points in ’04 to George Bush. Even if we assume the usual estimated 3% error in polling it’s still a double digit swing to the Democrat in 2012.
Republicans have typically been seen as the stronger party on defense for a very long time now and for reasons I’ve never actually understood. Democratic candidates have been seen as doves on war/defense despite the reality of the past hundred years and who was in office when wars began. Let’s quickly recap some of the most well known. WWI, WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and Clinton’s actions in Somalia and Eastern Europe in the ’90s were all implemented under Democratic presidents. Both Iraq wars, Afghanistan, expansion of the Vietnam War into Cambodia, and the actions of the Reagan administration in Latin America in the ’80s were all implemented by Republican presidents. Assessing who is the dove and who is not when looking at history should be rather difficult. Yet somehow, according to right-wing pundits, it’s not. And they have used this to support their candidates very successfully for many election cycles now and always come out on top with veterans.
So why the change? Some potential reasons are given in the article from the individual level but let’s face the reality on the macro level. Regardless of what your personal perception of the wars might be we all have to accept the reality that war is very ugly and brutal. People die, come back with missing limbs, watch their close friends lose their lives, and are traumatized with PTSD. When questions arise as to the reasons for the war and whether those reasons were worth fighting for, such as Iraq, the soldiers themselves who endure the heaviest loads are the ones who would most likely become disillusioned with the use of force by governments.
It is very clear this is now happening and the party most responsible for the action, the Republicans, might be paying a high price electorally. The question now will be, if this trend continues, what will the Republican strategy be toward defense in the following election cycle? It is very possible they might temper their rhetoric quite a bit and show a position where they would be less likely to commit troops unless it is blatantly necessary to all, including the American people. This would be a very nice step in the right direction going forward as we should be very thoughtful and very reluctant when it comes to starting wars and initiating actions that take so many lives.