In politics, we like to say that the only poll that counts is the one taken on Election Day. Based on their recent successes, military recruiters may want to chime in that the only poll on Iraq that counts is the one taken every month when their recruitment results are totaled.
If that’s the case, support for the campaign in Iraq is strong.
Last week the Defense Department announced that the four major branches — Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — had met their recruiting goals for June. Annual goals are within sight, well before the fiscal year ends Sept. 30. Results for two branches of the reserves — the Navy and Air Force — are lagging somewhat, but both may meet their annual objectives.
The active-duty Army, after missing some recruitment targets just over a year ago, has met its goals for 13 straight months. The persistence of the Army’s results undermines the notion that we as a nation aren’t committed to seeing this war reach a noble and successful conclusion.
Recent polling data also bear testimony to a resurgence of respect for the military. In March, the Harris Poll released its long-running time series on trust in the leaders of various American institutions. The Harris organization, now known as Harris Interactive, has asked a random sampling of Americans basically the same battery of questions since 1966. From 1971 on, this venerable survey series has been asked on an annual basis.
In the early 1970s, the series captured the growing sense of political alienation from leaders that was engendered by Watergate. During that period, I wrote a doctoral dissertation out of one year’s results that were paid for by a committee of the U.S. Senate. Today, Harris underwrites this unparalleled chronicle of change out of its own pocket. We all owe Harris Interactive a debt of gratitude for endowing such a special long-term study.
The military should be particularly grateful for the time series because it puts the armed services at the apex of institutional trust. A near majority of Americans, 47 percent, said they have a “great deal of confidence” in the people in charge of running the military. This edged out small business, 45 percent, and a group of other institutions clustered in the 30 percent range: universities, the Supreme Court, medicine and organized religion.
TV news, Wall Street, the press, major companies, organized labor, Congress and law firms were near the end of the list, earning the strong confidence of less than 20 percent of Americans.
The ratios of trust are astounding. Almost five times as many Americans have a great deal of confidence in leaders of the military, 47 percent, as have the same confidence in leaders of the Congress, 10 percent. This enormous gap in trust should cause persistently obnoxious Democratic congressional critics of the military to pause before they launch into another attack on our strategists in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Even though the latest numbers are strong, military leaders enjoyed even better poll numbers right after Sept. 11, when their “great deal of confidence” ratings soared into the 60 to 70 percent range. There were a few other scattered years where the top figures exceeded 50 percent, but the “norm” for the four decades has been below 40 percent.
Given today’s above-average poll results, then, the recruiting successes just announced shouldn’t be surprising. Even if they don’t follow polls, potential recruits must innately sense that America is behind the military and that we’ll applaud their response to a call to service. Yes, the hyperpatriotism of post-Sept. 11 has waned, but a solid underpinning of respect for the military remains. May it ever be so.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.