Military Times is just out with its annual poll of active duty military, and the results do not bode well for George W. Bush.

It is worth noting before beginning that this sample is drawn from a constituency that has been solidly pro-Bush, perhaps more so than any but corporate CEO’s. The boilerplate describes the sample’s composition, and how it is drawn:

..questionnaires [were mailed] to 6,000 people drawn at random from our list of active-duty subscribers…

…Those polled differ from the military as a whole in important ways. They tend to be older, higher in rank and more career-oriented… The poll has come to be viewed by some as a barometer of the professional career military.

In other words, we’re not talking about called-up National Guard or Reserves who might be less likely to support the Iraq war or President Bush. Nor are we talking about under-priveleged minorities who may have enlisted for lack of other opportunities. As the boilerplate says, these are “the professional career military.”

Excerpt’s from the poll:

Support for President Bush and for the war in Iraq has slipped significantly in the last year among members of the military’s professional core, according to the 2005 Military Times Poll.

Approval of the president’s Iraq policy fell 9 percentage points from 2004; a bare majority, 54 percent, now say they view his performance on Iraq as favorable. Support for his overall performance fell 11 points, to 60 percent, among active-duty readers

of the Military Times newspapers. Though support both for President Bush and for the war in Iraq remains significantly higher than in the public as a whole, the drop is likely to add further fuel to the heated debate over Iraq policy. In 2003 and 2004, supporters of the war in Iraq pointed to high approval ratings in the Military Times Poll as a signal that military members were behind the president’s policy.

The poll also found diminished optimism that U.S. goals in Iraq can be accomplished, and a somewhat smaller drop in support for the decision to go to war in 2003.

… The results should not be read as representative of the military as a whole; the survey’s respondents are on average older, more experienced, more likely to be officers and more career-oriented than the military population… The professional military seems to be lessening in its certainty about the wisdom of the Iraq intervention and the way it has been handled,” said Richard Kohn, a professor of political science at the University of North Carolina who studies civil-military relations. “This seems to be more and more in keeping with changes in public views, and that’s not surprising.”

The survey mirrors a similar shift in U.S. public opinion over the last year. The CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll, for example, recorded an eight-point drop in public approval for Iraq policy, from 47 percent in November 2004 to 39 percent in December 2005.

…Opinions on the president and Iraq weren’t the only shifts in the 2005 poll:

  • Positive feelings about Congress, civilian and uniformed Pentagon leaders and the media all fell…
  • Nearly two-thirds said the military is stretched too thin to be effective, though that figure is down substantially from two years ago…

But few of those shifts appear as significant as those on the president.

to be sure, support for the president and his policies remains stronger in the Military Times Poll than in surveys of the general public: The president’s approval rating is as much as 20 percentage points higher than in the civilian population. Part of that difference is partisan: While roughly a third of Americans describe themselves as Democrats, just 13 percent of Military Times Poll respondents do so…

…As in the previous two years, Military Times Poll respondents were reluctant to express opinions, even anonymously, about the commander in chief or his policies. About one in five refused to say whether they approved of the president’s performance on Iraq or overall…

This poll hardly signals the end of the world for President Bush and his war policies, but sagging support from a hardcore career military constituency, only 13% of whom describe themselves as Democrats, can hardly be regarded as good news in The White House.

Last year FOX News touted the Military News Poll as a sign of the high regard with which Bush was regarded by the military (though they neglected to mention that the sample reflected career military rather than the military as a whole). I suspect we’ll hear less about this year’s poll from FOX News — if they mention it at all.

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