In a survey of U.S. troops and their families, President Bush was the strong favorite over Sen. John F. Kerry, with 69 percent saying they place greater trust in Bush to handle the responsibilities of commander in chief.
The poll, conducted by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center, stopped short of asking respondents which presidential candidate they would vote for. Adam Clymer, the survey's political director, cited a 1948 law prohibiting polling of troops about their voting intentions.
But at a news conference yesterday, Clymer said the results clearly reflect a significant preference for Bush.
The survey found that 69 percent had a "favorable" view of Bush, while 29 percent professed a favorable view of Kerry. On character traits, Bush drew higher ratings than the Massachusetts senator for being caring, knowledgeable, optimistic, consistent and a strong leader -- although respondents also considered Bush more stubborn.
The military sample was far more likely to be Republican (43 percent) than Democratic (19 percent) or independent (28 percent). But GOP partisanship appeared to account for only some of Bush's advantage, Clymer said. He noted that on many questions, Republican respondents were more pro-Bush than their fellow party members in the general population, as measured by another, larger Annenberg survey. Independents in the military sample also were more supportive of Bush.
Further, more in the military group than in the general survey held Kerry's anti-Vietnam War activities against him, with half of the respondents who said they were familiar with Kerry's actions expressing strong disapproval.
On Iraq, 64 percent of those surveyed in the military group said going to war there was worth it, although among those who had served in Iraq or Afghanistan, the figure dropped to 55 percent. An even closer split emerged on the question of whether the war had reduced or raised the risk of terrorist attacks on the United States, with 47 percent saying the risk was down and 42 percent saying it had gone up.
Respondents also were narrowly divided on whether Bush has a clear solution for Iraq: 47 percent said he does; 48 percent said he lacks a plan.
Polling of the military by independent organizations is difficult because of limits on access, so such surveys are rare. The Annenberg survey, conducted by telephone between Sept. 22 and Oct. 5, was based on responses from 655 people in the United States representing a mix of soldiers, reservists on active duty and relatives of service members. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
The results were compared with a poll of the general population involving 2,436 adults surveyed between Sept. 27 and Oct. 3. The comparison showed that those in the military and their families not only have a more favorable impression of Bush than Americans generally, but also take a more optimistic view of the economy and the nation's direction. About 64 percent of the military sample said the country is "going in the right direction," while only 37 percent in the general poll did.
With 1.4 million people on active duty and an additional 1.2 million in the National Guard and reserves, the armed forces represent a substantial voting group. The Pentagon has intensified efforts this year to enable troops to vote, and 94 percent of the military sample said they intended to vote in the presidential election, compared with 85 percent in the general survey.
In the military sample, family members were found to be somewhat less supportive of Bush than their relatives on active duty. Families of reservists showed the least support, probably reflecting the exceptional stress that prolonged deployments have placed on reserve units. But even in that group, a narrow majority sided with Bush.
Asked their views of several other senior members of the Bush administration, respondents gave their strongest endorsement to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell. He drew a favorable rating of 80 percent. Vice President Cheney scored 54 percent, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld pulled 53 percent.
Additional Annenberg polling results on other aspects of the war in Iraq and military service are due for release today.