Public Confidence in the Military Drops Again, Survey Finds

U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines move through the jungle in Hawaii
U.S. Army soldiers and U.S. Marines move through the jungle on Bellows Air Force Station, Hawaii, Nov. 30, 2021. (U.S. Army photo by Spc. Rachel Christensen)

Public confidence in the military has fallen over the last three years, including in the last 10 months, according to a recent survey released this week by the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute.

While a majority of those who responded to the survey continue to have at least some confidence in the military, the percent expressing "great" confidence has dropped by 25 percentage points since the institute's first Reagan National Defense Survey in 2018.

In the latest survey, 45% said they have "a great deal of confidence" in the military, while another 33% said they have "some confidence."

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That's down from the previous survey in February, when 56% said they had a great deal of confidence in the military and 27% said they had some confidence.

In 2018, the first year of the survey, 70% had a great deal of confidence and 23% had some confidence.

The military has been at the center of a number of political controversies in recent years, including Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley accompanying then-President Donald Trump last year on his walk across Lafayette Square after law enforcement violently cleared the area of protesters. Milley later apologized, saying his presence "created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics."

Even with the drop, the military still tops the lists of institutions in which the public has confidence. And "great" confidence in institutions has declined across the board, with law enforcement down 17 points, the presidency and Supreme Court down 9 points, and the media down 6 points from 2018. Confidence in Congress actually increased -- from 5% to 6%.

To better understand the downward trend of confidence in the military, the survey this year added a question asking respondents for the reason for their level of confidence.

Among those who said they have a great deal of or some confidence in the military, the most popular answer, at about 43%, was because of the service members.

Those who said they have less confidence in the military had more scattered reasons, including 13% saying it's because of political leadership; 9% attributing it to scandals, including sexual assault; 8% saying the military is too expensive or has the wrong priorities; and 15% citing unspecified "other" reasons.

Meanwhile, survey respondents for the first time on a bipartisan majority identified China as the country they believe poses the greatest threat to the United States. About 52% said China is the top threat, including 64% of Republicans and 44% of Democrats.

While China also came in first overall in February at 37%, 28% of Democrats chose Russia as the top threat in that survey, compared with 20% of Democrats who said China was the top threat.

When asked about other threats to the nation, rather than just from other countries, the most recent survey found cyber attacks were the top concern, with 56% saying they were extremely concerned about hacking threats. Following closely behind, 55% said they were extremely concerned about the threat of U.S. political divisions leading to violence.

The survey was conducted from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7 by a bipartisan team from Beacon Research and Shaw and Company Research. Results were gathered from 998 live telephone interviews and 1,525 online surveys, and were weighted based on age, gender, race, region and education. The survey has a margin of error of 1.96%.

-- Rebecca Kheel can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.

Related: Americans' Trust and Confidence in the Military Is Decreasing, New Survey Finds

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