Afghanistan, Redux

Opinion trends about the war in Afghanistan appeared in one of our previous posts from 2019. Since America and its allies have pulled out of Afghanistan, the data are worthy of another look. The previous post showed that civilians lost their support of the war as far back as 2010 but cadets continued their support going into 2019. So, what has changed?

Our newest data includes surveys from 2017 and 2021. It still shows that cadets (ROTC and academy) are much more supportive of the war in Afghanistan than their civilian peers. They were asked how supportive they are of, “Allowing the U.S. military to conduct further military action in Afghanistan.” Fifty-eight percent of cadets but only 46% of civilians said they ‘strongly’ or ‘somewhat’ favor the war.

The intersection of military status and political party may help us to see how much of these opinions derive from the military affiliation or political values. Do political values drive people’s opinions about this war or does military status trump political positions? To answer this question, we looked at the intersection of military status (cadet or civilian) and political affiliation (Democrat, Republican, or Other).

It appears that identifying as a Republican is strongly associated with support for the war, regardless of military status. In fact, support for the war among civilian Republicans is a bit higher than their military counterparts but not by much (73% compared to 70%). Support among students identifying as Democrats drops significantly, especially among civilian Democrats. In this case, being associated with the military has a strong impact on favoring the war with 46% of Democratic cadets but only 33% of Democratic civilians favoring the war. A similar pattern emerges among people who claim neither Democrat nor Republican status although only minorities of both groups reporting support for it.

These findings reflect the current rhetoric on the war as President Joe Biden, a civilian Democrat, defending his decision to pull out of Afghanistan while Republicans deride his choice. Both groups appear to be influenced by the value systems associated with their status in society. It also appears that being associated with the military influences individuals beliefs, at least among Democrats and those with other political affiliations.

What You Can Do for Your Country

“…ask what you can do for your country.”  So said John F. Kennedy is his Presidential Inauguration speech just over 60 years ago on January 20, 1961. Kennedy may have been inspired by and building on William James’s 1910 essay “The Moral Equivalent of War.” Ultimately, JFK created the Peace Corps with Presidential Executive Order 10924.  President Johnson followed with the Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) program—the domestic Peace Corps. Military sociologists have promoted national service as well. Morris Janowitz argued in his 1983 book The Reconstruction of Patriotism: Education for Civic Consciousness (University of Chicago Press) that patriotism had been hijacked by xenophobes and militarism and civic obligations through service needed a comeback. Later that decade, Charles C.  Moskos, in his book A Call to Civic Service: National Service for Country and Community (Free Press, 1988) had a vision for community engagement through active citizenship obligations. George H.W. Bush signed into law the National and Community Service Act in 1990. President Clinton moved forward with the Corporation for National and Community Service which still exists today. George W. Bush created the Freedom Corps in 2002. Stanley McCrystal, a retired Army General has consistently appealed for national service laying out his points in a 2017 article titled “Every American Should Serve For One Year”. President Biden has yet to appoint a CEO to the Corporation for National and Community Service. 

The most recent Gallup Poll in November 2017 of Americans shows, surprise, surprise, the country is evenly split on national service, although, men and republicans actually favor national service more than women and democrats. Our data above has tracked university students and academy cadets over 20 years. Our college students and cadets specifically show a similar split as Americans more broadly. More, they are consistent over the past 20 years. However, there is a sex gap. More of them favor men doing national service than women doing national service. But that gap may be narrowing during the 2020s compared to the last two decades.

What can you do for your country? The answer to this question continues to be debated. Our data provides some insights into what drives our varied thoughts on the matter.

Attitudes Toward Race Relations in the Wake of the George Floyd’s Death

We have reported on race issues in previous posts. This one comes after the protests resulting from the deaths of George Floyd and other African Americans in the US. Civilians and cadets were asked how concerned they are personally about race relations.

race relations summer 2020

This graph clearly shows that recent incidents have had a big impact on concerns over race in America today. Prior to the death of George Floyd, only 44% of our respondents said that they were Very or Somewhat Concerned about race relations. After this event, it shot up to 72%. Clearly, our data show that the race-related events occurring in the summer of 2020 have impacted feelings about race relations in the US. More data will be collected to determine whether this is a long-term trend regarding attitudes toward race in America today.

The Military and Ideological Intersectionality

Political Analyst Gerard Lameiro predicted a split of the Republican Party in 2019, as two major systems of contradictory thoughts are emerging between social and economic conservatives. Military status is almost always associated with conservative ideals, and very few analysts account for the impact service may have on political ideology. By looking at the intersection of military status and political party, we can theorize which of these two memberships has a stronger impact on an individual’s viewpoint.

When comparing civilian and military cadet responses to questions about hot-button issues, such as gun control and abortion, our data shows that people in the Democratic Party show more consistent responses to these questions than people in the Republican Party. The Democratic group differs no more than 7.5% between civilians and cadets on topics of gun control, abortion, homosexuality, and affirmative action. They are consistently more liberal than republicans, and remarkably similar. The Republican group, on the other hand, diverges by about 25% on three of the four issues. On all topics presented, cadet Republicans share a more traditional viewpoint than their civilian counterparts.


Why are military Republicans more socially conservative than their civilian Republican peers? Perhaps traditional Republicans are more drawn to military values and lifestyle than progressive Republicans, causing an over-representation of traditionalist thought. Thought polarization would also explain this phenomenon, suggesting that those entering the military gradually develop more stringent traditionalist beliefs as they are mostly surrounded by conservative Republicans. This explanation, however, does not account for why Democrats are steadfast in their views of social issues regardless of military status.

The concept of intersectionality reminds us that people hold multiple statuses, making it difficult to stereotype them. In our sample, both military and civilian Democrats follow the wider party’s values, while Republicans differ by military status. Perhaps, as suggested by Dr. Lameiro, this indicates that the Republican Party encompasses a wider variety of acceptable viewpoints, allowing military status to intersect with political party, therefore affecting stances on social issues.


Religious Affiliation among Cadets and Civilians

In Western cultures, the Christmas season yields a mix of secular and religious imagery as people rush to buy presents for family and friends while a growing portion of them are leaving their faiths to become “Nones” – people who have no particular affiliation. This trend is particularly strong among young people, the type of people we have been surveying for over a decade. Military personnel are typically considered more conservative than their civilian peers (and our data support this view) but does this hold for religious values and beliefs? Are young people affiliated with the military less likely to be a religious “None”?

When asked to identify their religious affiliation, 21% of civilians in our sample claim “None/agnostic/atheist” compared to 14% of academy cadets and 15% of ROTC cadets. These numbers are in line with national figures for civilians although young people are more likely to disaffiliate than older people. Not surprising, the percent of cadets who identify as Christian is higher than their civilian peers. These data are probably skewed because the samples are not random but they do imply that, like many other facets of life, military affiliation reflects other aspects of life beyond military service itself.

Christian affiliation, 12_24_19

And as we go through another holiday season, it is interesting to contemplate the changing value of religion in society but it is important to remember that it can vary by group. Some people and groups hold on to their beliefs more than others. Future research will have to determine whether these groups – in this case military cadets –  will “regress to the mean” as they say in the social sciences, that their values and beliefs will change to reflect civilian trends or if they will maintain a separate subculture.

Young Adults Still Support War on Terrorism

In the October 13th New York Times article, Abandoned by U.S. in Syria, Kurds Find New Ally in American Foe , the authors state: 

For five years, United States policy relied on collaborating with the Kurdish-led forces both to fight the Islamic State and to limit the influence of Iran and Russia, which support the Syrian government, with a goal of maintaining some leverage over any future settlement of the conflict. On Sunday, after Mr. Trump abruptly abandoned that approach, American leverage appeared all but gone.

It may seem like Americans are done with fighting wars associated with reducing the risk of terrorism around world, but our data show otherwise. When asked whether they favor or oppose, “Allowing U.S. military to conduct other military actions to pursue terrorists around the world”, a strong majority still support this idea (77.9%).

support for military pursuit of terrorists, 10_14_19

Like many of our other findings in this project, civilians are much less supportive of the use of force (59.9%) than academy (85.6%) and ROTC (86.6%) cadets but majorities of all three groups appear to be ready to commit to this goal.

The politics associated with pulling troops out of Syria are more complicated than simply fighting terrorism. Our data suggest that, under some conditions, political leaders can rely on the support of young adults if they are convinced that the conflicts can help end international terrorism.

Mission Ready? BMI and Military Service

A report by Mission: Readiness found that 75% of young Americans are unfit for military service, partially due to the fact that 27% of them are too overweight to join. This problem has likely worsened in the 10 years since the article was published, as obesity rates continue to rise. Our data has been used to evaluate the same issue, investigating how many men and women aged 17 to 20 abide by their respective army weight requirements. We have also found how well ROTC and academy cadets meet these standards.

Using information collected about height and weight to create BMI scores, our data found that 37.8% of young American civilians are physically unfit to serve in the army. Military cadets, on average, comply with weight standards more than civilians, as expected. The highest compliance rate in our data come from female cadets.

Obesity by mil status, 8_27_19

Seven percent of civilian females in our sample are underweight compared to less than one percent of civilian males, which largely accounts for the difference between the fitness of the male and female civilian groups. The increase in compliance to weight standards comparing civilians to military personnel is expected but scores among the cadets are not perfect either.

We also wanted to know if people are self-selecting out of the military based on their physical condition but we found no correlation of BMI and individuals’ consideration for joining the military (statistics not shown), which means that perspective members are not self-selecting themselves out due to their weight. Regardless, it will be seen whether trends in obesity will make it more difficult for the services to recruit qualified cadets.

The Afghanistan War Over Time

The war in Afghanistan was launched shortly after the 9/11 attacks and has become the longest war in U.S. history, spanning almost 18 years. In November 2001 89% of Americans supported entering the war. However, as detailed by Politico, this number was cut in half by 2015, with only 42% defending America’s entrance into Afghanistan. While we know that civilian support for the Afghanistan war has generally decreased over the years, it is less known how views within military personnel groups have changed with time.

Our data finds that support for the war in Afghanistan has linearly declined by just over 20% from 2002 to 2017 in both military groups and civilians. However, military support for the war effort consistently rates at about 30% higher than civilian support, as displayed through trend lines. The difference between the groups is so profound that only the initial two years of data from civilians (68.9% and 81.1% in support) surpass the lowest point of support in military (64.7%). The data set for academy and ROTC cadets is also more linear, which may suggest that their views are more focused due to close handling of the conflict.


Why would cadets show significantly more support for the war effort when they are the ones who must put themselves in harms way? Earlier research using these data shows that military affiliation is associated with favorable attitudes toward going to war (see here). Much of the difference between the two groups can be explained by political ideology and gender. Whatever is producing these differences, there is a clear parallel in which both groups’ support has declined over time, yet the gap remains.

Mental Health among Civilian and Military Students recently reported on the numbers of suicides attempted on defense facilities, sometimes called ‘parking lot suicides’. Specifically, they state that 260 suicide attempts have been recorded on Veterans Administration facilities. Stories of a mental health crisis have been associated with the military with the onset of the PTSD diagnosis in the 1970s. At the same time, stories of student crisis are also emerging as colleges and universities struggle to support students dealing with depression and anxiety (see this New York Times article). Which group is struggling the most? Our data (n=9,357; 2017)  shows that cadets, both ROTC and academy cadets, have about the same levels of self-reported depression with 9% of cadets indicating that they have occasionally or not at all experienced depression compared to 11% of civilian students. These differences are even greater when looking at self-reports of mental health status. However, when asked to assess their mental health overall, civilian students are much more likely to say that their mental health is ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ – 7% among cadets but 31% among civilian students.

Mental health blog, 4_12_19

It is important to remember that all cadets are screened before joining the services which probably limits the number of people with extreme problems or issues. That said, mental health issues appear to be impacting this generation as a whole and many people joining the services bring the issues and problems associated with their generation.

Gender Equality Among Veterans

A recent post from ( suggests that female veterans are not being treated the same as their male counterparts. We do not address this issue directly with our data but did ask our sample how important, “Equality of people, regardless of gender, race, religion, etc” is to them. Selecting on veteran status, you can see that the vast majority of men and women believe it is important (94% of men and 95% of women).


equality chart 1, 3_11_19n=824, 620 male veterans and 204 female veterans

The chart combines the “very important” and “somewhat important” categories. Eight-seven percent of female veterans say equality is “very important” compared to only 72% of men, suggesting that it is particularly important for female veterans. Albeit a small difference, only .5% of female veterans say that they “Don’t Know” compared to .8% of men.

While women are now officially accepted into combat roles in the armed services, they still represent a statistical minority among both service members and veterans. We will have to keep watch over gender integration beyond the extent to which they can take on different positions to include interactions among people of different genders. Our data suggest that both men and women see equality as important, so it won’t be a “hard sell” to encourage service members to treat each other with dignity and respect.