Romney has big lead over Obama among military veterans

A new Gallup poll shows Mitt Romney leading President Obama by 24 points among military veterans, essentially accounting for Obama's 'gender gap' among men. But as the number of vets declines, the GOP's advantage here may dwindle.

Charles Dharapak/AP
Ret. Air Force Maj. Alfred Nathaniel Simmons lines up with other members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars honor guard at the Memorial Day Observance ahead of President Barack Obama's arrival at Arlington National Cemetery Monday.

On this Memorial Day weekend, Mitt Romney apparently is getting a big boost from US military veterans.

Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, has a big lead over incumbent Barack Obama among vets – 58 percent to 34 percent, according to a new Gallup survey. In essence, they’re the reason President Obama faces any “gender gap” among men. Among nonveteran men, Gallup finds, Obama has a four-point edge, and they’re essentially tied (46 percent to 46 percent) among all registered voters.

It’s an important group. Veterans make up 13 percent of the electorate (24 percent of all adult men).  And although a dwindling percentage of Americans have served in the armed forces since the end of the draft in 1973, they’re an important part of the GOP’s base. In 2008, Sen. John McCain beat Obama among veterans by 54 percent to 44 percent.

In Pictures: The Next Mission: Veterans Returning Home

During his time in office, Obama, as commander in chief, has made a strong effort to show support of the troops – both active-duty forces and especially those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan and now face struggles with war injuries (including post-traumatic stress disorder) as well as a struggling economy that makes it difficult for some to find civilian work.

"We have to serve them and their families as well as they have served us," Obama said in his weekend radio address. "By making sure that they get the health care and benefits they need; by caring for our wounded warriors and supporting our military families; and by giving veterans the chance to go to college, find a good job, and enjoy the freedom that they risked everything to protect."

Why veterans are so strong in their preference for the Republican presidential candidate is not entirely clear, Gallup concedes.

“Previous Gallup analysis has suggested that two processes may be at work,” writes Gallup editor in chief Frank Newport in his analysis. “Men who serve in the military may become socialized into a more conservative orientation to politics as a result of their service. Additionally, men who in the last decades have chosen to enlist in the military may have a more Republican orientation to begin with.”

Several closely watched states in the election have large blocs of military voters, The Associated Press notes. Florida, home to several military installations, has more than 1.6 million veterans, according to the Veterans Administration. Pennsylvania has nearly 1 million veterans, while Virginia and North Carolina each have about 800,000 veteranss.

Like much of their respective generations, neither Romney nor Obama has served in the military. This will be the first election since World War II in which neither major-party candidate is a veteran. Among GOP contenders, the major exception this year has been Ron Paul, who served as a flight surgeon in the US Air Force.

“Barring unforeseen developments such as the re-institution of the military draft, the proportion of the male population in this country that will have served in the armed forces will decrease in the years ahead as the older population dominated by veterans dies off,” Newport writes. “These data suggest that Democrats could get an overall boost from this demographic phenomenon as these apparently reliable Republican voters become a smaller and smaller proportion of the population.”

In Pictures: The Next Mission: Veterans Returning Home

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