Friday, September 14, 2007


An Eye on Military Support

Jonah Goldberg, posting at the The Corner, a couple days ago linked to a report from Capital Eye, a non-profit advocacy group. The somewhat sensational report makes the headline claim that “the Republican commander-in-chief and his party are losing the troops’ support.”

Goldberg didn’t take time when posting to analyze the report or its underlying data, but a cursory investigation of its underlying data suggests there is less than meets the “eye.”

First off, a perfunctory review of the non-profit group responsible for the report strongly suggests the sponsors, agents and sympathizers of the group would be highly supportive of having a negative hit piece run coincident with General Petraeus’ report and congressional testimony. The group, closely associated with (if not one and the same as) Center for Responsive Politics. Both groups are funded by prominent Democratic and Liberal/Progressive charitable groups and trusts like Pew, Ford, Carnegie, Sunlight, and so forth.

This is the game Democrats play to create highly sympathetic groups who can channel money for largely anti-Republican issue advocacy.

That of course doesn’t mean that what they report may not be accurate, but should prompt skepticism as to bias, cherry picking of data, and “spin” in the report’s handling of data.

It also strongly suggests that the timing of this report is no accident, but rather carefully timed support for Democrats as one means to discredit the war in Iraq, and create an impression that the military is turning against the President and Republicans over the war.

It’s like they were putting this report out to help the Democrats, or something.

The problem is, as Capital Eye and the Democrats well know, military folks show a strong proclivity towards the GOP, especially on issues like terror, the war in Iraq, and national defense. And this report doesn’t actually refute that or suggest any “weakening” in that support at this time.

For one thing, the report is of Federal Election Commission data for contributions greater than $200. With the rather miniscule dollar amounts that form the basis of this report, the differences between contributions don’t exceed any reasonable margin of error.

That’s just for starters. Despite its headline and lede, note this from further down in the report:

In the 2000 and 2002 election cycles, uniformed service members gave about three-quarters of their federal contributions to Republicans. The percentage dropped to 59 percent in the 2004 cycle and has remained there since. This shift toward Democrats is most visible among members of the Army, who gave 71 percent of their money to Republicans before the war began. So far this year, members of the Army have given a mere 51 percent to the GOP, spreading their contributions nearly evenly between the two major parties.

The drop in contributions to Republicans—which began nearly the second the war in Iraq did in early 2003—seems to suggest that there is a passionate group of people in the armed services who are looking for ways to express their opinion, said John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute. "This [data] suggests that among the military, the people who feel most intensely about the Bush administration and the war in Iraq are negative about it," Samples said. "It's a general discontentment over the way the administration has handled the war—or even that we're in a war."

Catch that? In 2004, there was a drop from 71% to 59% of the specific data measured by this report, and “has remained there since.” So this surge in “dramatically” reduced support started the moment the war in Iraq started, yet military members still voted for President Bush in the same 70-75% percentile in 2004? And yet the report is timed and written as if it’s just happening now?

They also use a very selective slice of data to report that members of the Army have given almost equal amounts to Democrats and GOP “so far this year.” You might think it entirely reasonable that giving might be down in an off year, and perhaps think of reasons that would affect those who donate to the GOP more than angry democrats.

Capital Eye trots out one outraged Army Lieutenant Colonel for all of their (negative) military quotes. I’m surprised they couldn’t track down Colonel Karpinski of Abu Ghraib fame, I’m sure she’s made a few contributions.

Embedded in the Capital Eye report are some notable reflections on Department of Defense (DoD) bureaucratic politicking:

Civil Servants Take a Stand

Civil servants in defense-related positions are also increasing their donations to Democrats. Contributions from employees of the Department of Defense seem to follow the incumbent party in the White House, favoring Democrats in 2000, while Bill Clinton was still president, and heavily favoring Republicans since George W. Bush took office. But in the 2008 election cycle, only 62 percent of the defense department's contributions have gone to the GOP, compared to 79 percent just before the war began.

I am not at all surprised that career bureaucrats let their politics (and their political donations) follow the incumbent party. Again, note the drop in support for the GOP from 79 to 62 percent. Maybe some of these more politically minded bureaucrats are betting on the Dem candidate? And again, based on the small numbers involved, is this statistically significant? No actual dollar amounts are mentioned, but there are several gratuitous statements of outrage over eavesdropping, torture, and the “disregard of constitutional rights.”

After posing the question at The Corner, Goldberg received this intelligent and helpful response, which further questions the basis for the Capital Eye report:

Alendalux writes:


Variations on this theme have been kicking around for a while – especially the one about Paul’s alleged groundswell of support.  It has also been based on lazy research.  They go to this page at FEC ( which has links to contributions by employer.  But there’s no set way of listing your employer.  Many people put “retired” under employer and then put USN, USMC or USAF next to their name in the name field – the “contributions by employer” does not take this into account.  It also doesn’t take into account the number of donors, just the amount of money.  So what you need to do is go to this FEC page ( – and choose either Republican or Democrat – which will eventually link you to a page for each candidate where you can get a listing of every individual contribution made to a given candidate.   

When the Paul story came out in July, I wrote about this.  I went through the pages for Paul and McCain, two individuals who have served in the military with completely opposite views on Iraq.  Paul had $23,000 in donations while McCain had $15,000.  Just looking at those numbers you know this is hardly going to be a statistically significant study.  But since so many people want to pretend it is, let’s go along with it.  Doing searches for Navy, Army, Air Force, Marine, USAF, USN, USA, USMC, DOD, Defense, Veteran, Soldier and Military (and, of course making sure anyone that came up on these searches were actually connected to the military – “USA” brought up “Susan” as often as it did someone in the Army), it turns out Paul’s money comes from a total of 23 people, most giving in the $1,000+ range.  McCain had more than twice the number of individual contributors – 55.  They just gave less money.  Why this is the case is up for debate – it could just be because Paul supporters are more activist in general.  

But the point is, in terms of numbers, if you can take anything from these findings, it’s that McCain has more support than Paul among those connected with the military who have given money – much more support.  After reading Orr’s post, I went back through both Paul and McCain’s contributions again today.  McCain still has more than twice the number of contributors as Paul, and he’s actually gained more individual contributors than Paul in the intervening two months.  McCain now has 64 to Paul’s 30.  So make of that what you will.  I think it is pretty statistically insignificant, but if you want to play their game, it means the military is still overwhelmingly on the side of the policies supported by McCain.  I haven’t gone through Obama’s contributors yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the people putting this study together took the similar route of taking the conveniently supplied “Contribution by Employer” numbers that showed Paul with some huge groundswell of support. 

More commentary from the Michael Goldfarb at the Weekly Standard:

I can't believe people are taking seriously this report showing a shift in the political contributions of active duty personnel away from the Republican party. The report says that contributions to Democrats have jumped to 40 percent this year from just 23 percent in 2004. That would be surprising--even though 60 percent support for Republicans would be considered an enormous landslide in any other subset of Americans--if this was actually an election year. Because it isn't, the numbers are minuscule compared to the contributions of 2004: just $330,000 so far, compared to $1.8 million for 2004.

Anytime you get a sample size that small, you are bound to have some weird things happen--like the fact that Ron Paul has raised more money so far among the military than any other Republican. Ron Paul also won the 'text your vote' portion of the last Republican presidential debate on Fox with some 35 percent support, and yet his support here on planet earth hovers around 1 percent last I heard. What does that mean? That Ron Paul's supporters are passionate. While the rest of the military is unlikely to even pay attention to the presidential contest until some time next year, a couple hundred Ron Paul supporters are sending in contributions--and furiously texting their votes to Fox.

A similar explanation can be applied to why it is that Democrats have closed the fund raising gap a bit among active duty personnel. The soldiers, sailors, Marines, etc. who are frustrated with this administration's policies are paying close attention, and sending money to candidates who they hope will offer a change of course.

The drop in contributions to Republicans—which began nearly the second the war in Iraq did in early 2003—seems to suggest that there is a passionate group of people in the armed services who are looking for ways to express their opinion, said John Samples, director of the Center for Representative Government at the Cato Institute. "This [data] suggests that among the military, the people who feel most intensely about the Bush administration and the war in Iraq are negative about it," Samples said.

I don't doubt that there might be a slight shift, but it is way too soon to tell. $27,000 to Obama--and he's in the lead? Even if you assume that no one mailed in more than $20, that's only 1,350 people, out of an Armed Forces numbering more than 2 million. I'm no statistician, but I would think that any serious analysis would conclude that Mr. Samples's sample size is too small to draw any meaningful conclusions about overall trends.

There are no reliable polls of the active duty military to check this against. Military Times surveys its readership, but those results are skewed by the fact that their participants are disproportionately drawn from the officer corps. And still, their survey found a margin of 72 to 17 in favor of Bush in the last presidential election. Any survey that shows Ron Paul to be a major force isn't worth the paper it's printed on.

Goldfarb must not have noted the little postscript on the article, noting that the data is of contributions greater than $200, which means that $27,000 donated to Senator Obama is from as few as 135 people, not 1,350.

There are two sides fighting, here at home, one wants the military to succeed, the other wants to end the war as quickly as possible, without regard to the outcome. And to do that, they have to convince the American people that:

  1. It’s lost already;
  2. There’s no hope for success;
  3. The troops who say we’re winning are lying; and
  4. The military is against the war

Sad to say, the Opposition had been making good progress with the American people on 1 and 2, and starting to make inroads on 3 and 4, until MILBLOGGERS stood up against TNR’s fabulist, the surge started working, and General Petraeus strode into the arena.

Now, they’re losing on 1 and 2 as well.

Continue the mission, as Papa Ray likes to say.


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