Politico reports this week that veterans are “retreating” from Obama, showing that “back in May, Obama had the lead among Afghanistan and Iraq veterans,” but that recent polling indicates that the lead has “evaporated,” with Romney now up 48 percent to 34 percent among veterans.
First of all, the assertion that the president was ever “leading among veterans” is generous. With no links provided in the report it is hard to immediately identify which poll reporter Darren Samuelsohn was referring to, but I’ll assume it’s this Reuters/Ipsos poll from early May that had Obama over Romney 44 percent to 37 percent among veterans. The accompanying story here weaves an ambitious Obama-friendly narrative that does an effective job underscoring how unhappy veterans are over the recent wars, the poor economy and government in general — no huge surprises there — but it doesn’t quite explain why or how recent vets would prefer the president over Romney in the fall.
It’s possible that the Reuters poll was an outlier. A major Gallup Poll that same month showed Romney far ahead of Obama among veterans, 58 to 34 percent. And all polling since, both nationwide and in some key battleground states (including Colorado, Florida, Virginia, and Ohio) indicate that things are falling into the usual pattern, with veterans and military families preferring the Republican by a comfortable margin.
In any case, the use of “retreat” in the Politico headline is unfortunate, given that it has been both parties who have retreated from their duty to military men and women and veterans in the last 10 years. Romney’s edge is likely due to the fact that military voters tend to be more conservative and vote Republican, as evidenced in the last three presidential elections: Vets favored George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000, Bush over John Kerry in 2004, and John McCain over Barack Obama in 2008.
But aside from having an “R” after his name, Romney has done very little to assure veterans that he is in their corner. He was blasted for not mentioning veterans or even the war in Afghanistan in his acceptance speech before the Republican National Convention (he responded by pointing to his
pander speech to the American Legion the day before). The best his surrogates can offer is that Romney’s muscular vision of American force abroad and his insistence on adding more money to the defense budget is resonating with veterans and military families. Maybe so, but it is not clear that Romney’s verbal larding of the Pentagon budget will trickle down to the VA hospitals and clinics, or help vets find work once they get out of the military.
Obama supporters say the president successfully shepherded a veterans’ jobs bill through Congress this summer and was successful in ending the ban on the “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy. His people point to the budget windfalls for the VA over the last four years, but let’s face it, Congress has consistently approved those appropriations, lest its members be seen as “soft on veterans.”
Indeed, both parties claim to be more “pro-veterans,” “pro-military” — the Democrats most recently blamed the GOP for blocking a separate $1 billion jobs measure for vets in Congress, while Republicans accused the Obama campaign of suppressing the military vote in Ohio. Vice President Joe Biden’s son Beau, an Iraq vet, is on the campaign trail criticizing Romney in the swing states. Romney’s surrogates are relentlessly pounding the defense industry’s line that it will lose one million jobs if the defense cuts are actualized through pending sequestration (they blame Democrats for this). The GOP nominee is also promising to grow the services, reversing some of the peacetime cuts initiated by the Obama administration.
All told, the fight for the vet vote is a largely empty quadrennial affair. Each party panders, woos, flirts with and all but grovels to the military rank and file and vets for their votes, and then, well, they largely forget them for the next three years or so. Today, the wait-times at the nation’s VA hospitals and clinics are still painfully long, and the backlog for disability claims and appeals at a record high. The burn pit/dust issue remains unresolved and unstated by either candidate. Nor do they talk about the lagging mental healthcare, particularly against the backdrop of the escalating suicide rate among active duty and veterans. Unemployment among vets remains high and yes, despite Obama’s grand claims of bringing them home from war, there are still more men and women in Afghanistan than there were when he took office.
The vets know better, the military families do too. Research shows they will be voting for their favored candidate based on non-military issues. But that won’t stop the pandering. Read no more into these veterans’ surveys than you have to.