The Reagan National Defense Survey showed that the percentage of Americans having a great deal of trust and confidence in the U.S. military was only 45 percent — the first time that number has dropped below 50 percent since the survey was first conducted in 2018. It is also a steep drop from 56 percent in February 2021.
The institute said in its summary, “Almost a year into the Biden Administration and a few months removed from the Afghanistan withdrawal, the American people are equivocal and unsure about U.S. global leadership and military capabilities.”
The drop continues a trend — though not as precipitous — of declining American confidence in the U.S. military, which stood at 70 percent in 2018.
According to a summary by the institute, confidence has fallen among Republicans by 34 points, among Independents by 28 points, and among Democrats by 17 points since 2018.
While the military is still at the top of America's trusted institutions, the trend of declining trust is occurring more rapidly for the military than for other public institutions such as law enforcement, the presidency, the Supreme Court, Congress, and the news media, according to the summary.
Among those with little or not much confidence in the military, the most common answer was “political leadership.”
“There is particularly low belief in the relative strength of America's military leadership and manpower,” the survey summary said.
Only 33 percent think that the U.S. military leadership is the best in the world, whereas 42% think it is one of the best. There are better numbers for enlisted service members, with 36 percent believing the U.S. military is the best in the world, while 46 percent think it one of the best.
The survey showed that Americans were unsure about the military's ability to perform its core responsibilities.
The survey showed that only 57 percent have a great deal of confidence in the U.S. military's ability to keep the country safe, and only 42 percent have a great deal of confidence in its ability to win a war. Only 40 percent had confidence in the U.S. military's ability to act in a professional and nonpolitical manner.
The survey showed that 50 percent supported the U.S. military using part of its budget to address climate change, but 39 percent opposed it. The support was mostly from Democrats, and opposition mostly from Republicans.
The survey was conducted from October 25-November 7, 2021 by a bipartisan team of Beacon Research (D) and Shaw & Company Research (R). There were 2,523 respondents, with an estimated margin of error of +/- 1.96 percentage points.
The bleak survey comes after a disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan in August that left Americans on both sides of the aisle wondering about the competence of the Biden administration as well as U.S. military leadership.
It also comes amid the Biden Pentagon's focus on rooting out “extremists” from the military, as well as on diversity and gender, and climate change. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is the first defense secretary to appoint senior advisers on “diversity, inclusion and human capital” and climate change.