WASHINGTON — A majority of military veterans approve of President Donald Trump’s performance as commander in chief, reflecting continued support from a group that has strongly backed him throughout his presidency. Still, many veterans believe he doesn’t listen enough to military leaders and they distrust his decisions on the use of force.
That’s according to a Pew Research Center poll released Wednesday that measured the political opinions of former service members and echoed the broad findings of AP VoteCast, a survey of midterm voters .
The Pew poll showed high levels of support from veterans overall for Trump and a range of policies, from border security to his dealings with North Korea, NATO and Russia, even as opinion tilted negative among Americans in general.
Meanwhile, comparable majorities of veterans and Americans overall see the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq as not worth fighting and they view the U.S. military engagement in Syria as more negative than positive.
“I feel very very emotionally wedded to the vets,” Trump said in a call with military veterans last month. “They’ve been very good to me, also, I can tell you at the ballot box they were extremely good to me. … We’re going to take care of you.”
In all, 57% of veterans approved of Trump’s leadership as commander in chief, compared with 41% of Americans overall. About half of veterans, or 48%, said the president respects veterans a great deal, and an additional 14% think he respects them a fair amount.
But there were signs of strain heading into the 2020 election.
The Pew survey found views varying by party, gender and age. Women, younger veterans and Democrats generally were more skeptical of the president’s respect for veterans.
AP VoteCast, a nationwide midterm survey that included more than 4,000 veteran voters, similarly found lower approval for Trump among veterans who are women, younger in age and Democrats.
Trump, who did not serve in the military, has a mixed history with veterans.
He feuded with Gold Star families and often mocked Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, a prisoner of war in Vietnam, for being captured by the enemy. McCain died in 2018.
Last month, the Pentagon told the White House to stop politicizing the armed forces while critics accused him of using America’s military as a political prop after marshaling tanks for a Fourth of July celebration in the nation’s capital.
Forty-five percent of veterans said they believe Trump doesn’t listen to his military leaders enough, while a similar share said Trump listens about the right amount. The findings come amid signs of leadership turmoil at the Pentagon, including the sudden resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis last December.
On the use of military force and nuclear weapons, roughly 4 in 10 veterans said they have little trust in Trump’s ability to make wise decisions.
Mattis, a retired four-star Marine general, disagreed with Trump on a number of matters, and ultimately resigned in protest of the president’s move to pull troops from Syria. The Pentagon has been without a permanent defense secretary for more than six months, including last month when Trump abruptly called off swiftly planned military strikes on Iran.
Veterans were somewhat more likely to approve than disapprove of withdrawing the U.S. from the Iran nuclear weapons agreement, 53% to 46%, and of sending troops to the U.S.-Mexico border, 58% to 41%. Majorities also were supportive of Trump’s handling of North Korea, Russia and NATO allies.
But veterans leaned more critical of the president’s proposal for a new branch of the military, called Space Force, to police outer space: 53% disapproved, while 45% approved. The plan, which has drawn congressional skepticism, was scaled down due to questions about need and potential costs.
Laura Cavallaro, 36, of Warwick, Rhode Island, who served on active duty in the Marine Corps from 2001 to 2005 and on inactive duty until 2009, said she hasn’t decided whether she will support Trump in the 2020 election. She finds it troubling that Trump can’t seem to keep his opinions to himself at times.
“Who knows if he’s going to say something to the wrong person and start another war?” said Cavallaro, a political independent. That’s particularly concerning for a military veteran, she said, given that they know what’s at stake in combat.
Veterans expressed a general fatigue toward prolonged military conflicts, including the war in Afghanistan, started nearly 18 years ago, and the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Sixty-four percent of veterans said the war in Iraq was not worth fighting considering the costs versus the benefits to the U.S., similar to the share of Americans overall. Majorities of both veterans (58 and the public (59%) also said the war in Afghanistan has not been worth fighting.
As to military engagement in Syria, 42% of veterans said it has been worthwhile for the U.S., while 55% said it has not.
The survey polled 1,284 veterans from May 14 to June 3 and 1,087 adults from May 14 to May 24. The margin of sampling error was plus or minus 3.9 percentage points and 3.1 percentage points, respectively.
Associated Press writer Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.