President Donald Trump and the military: veterans are still with him

September 10, 2020, 12:00 PM UTC

How does President Donald Trump feel about the military? According to The Atlantic, the president called American soldiers who died in World War I “losers” and “suckers.” In the latest Economist/YouGov Poll, voters are closely divided on whether or not he actually said those things. About two in five (40%) do not believe the story, while 39 percent do.   

As for veterans themselves, a majority (53%) don’t believe the story, though a third (36%) do. 

Veterans are much more likely to have paid attention to the claim. Nearly half say they’d heard a lot about it, compared with just over a third of the public at large. Veterans tend to support the president in general: in this poll, they give Donald Trump a 16-point lead over former Vice President Joe Biden (53% to 37%), just about the same as their support one week ago, before The Atlantic story was published.  

Republicans and Democrats take diametrically opposite views on the question of the story’s truth: 72 percent of Democrats believe it; 71 percent of Republicans do not. Democratic voters have also been more attentive to the story: most (54%) Biden voters have heard “a lot” about the claim; just one-third (34%) of Trump voters say the same.  

Most Americans want to do more for current and former members of the armed forces. Two-thirds of the public believe the government is not doing enough for veterans. That’s a bipartisan position, though even more Democrats (71%) than Republicans (58%) say this. In addition, more voters believe Biden cares at least somewhat about the needs and problems of veterans and those in the military than say this about the president.  

Biden gets mixed evaluations from veterans, while the president gets a positive assessment from them. Not surprising, as he is ahead in their vote preference. Overall, these questions divide the public based on whom they support.  

President Trump is known as a critic of the late Senator John McCain, who spent more than five years captured as a prisoner of war during the Vietnam War. In 2015, Trump appeared to question McCain’s status as a war hero, remarking "I like people who weren't captured." Trump later apologized for the remarks, but he and McCain remained opposed to one another for the remainder of McCain’s life.  

This is one case where veterans disagree with the President. Like the public overall, veterans believe McCain is a hero. An Economist/YouGov Poll conducted in 2018 after McCain died from an aggressive form of brain cancer found that a majority (55%) of Americans regarded him as a hero. In 2020, a plurality of Americans (47%) still regard McCain as a hero. 

Trump and the Military
 

Trump’s supporters are clearly divided on this question: 39 percent call him a hero, while 31 percent say he is not one. Three in 10 Trump supporters are not certain either way. Overall, their opinion of McCain is more unfavorable (45%) than favorable (36%). Veterans have a favorable opinion of the 2008 Republican presidential nominee, most (55%) are favorable, while a quarter (25%) are unfavorable.   

See the toplines and crosstabs from this week’s Economist/YouGov Poll 

Methodology: The Economist survey was conducted by YouGov using a nationally representative sample of 1,500 U.S. adult citizens interviewed online between September 6 - 8, 2020. This sample was weighted according to gender, age, race, and education based on the American Community Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of the Census, as well as 2016 Presidential vote, registration status, geographic region, and news interest. Respondents were selected from YouGov’s opt-in panel to be representative of all US citizens. The margin of error is approximately 3.4% for the overall sample. 

Image: Getty