Government and Regulations

Who Will Win the Veteran and Military Vote?

As voting begins, the role that active-duty and veteran voters will play remains unclear even as their issues get little attention.


As the presidential election campaign enters its final week, the role of VA reform efforts and military and veteran voting patterns remains unclear. Despite its initial efforts to focus on active-duty service members and veterans, the Trump campaign has not made reforming the VA a central part of its campaign, whereas the Clinton campaign has focused more on the issues surrounding military and foreign relations.

In previous elections, veterans and active-duty service members tended to strongly back Republican candidates. In 2008, John McCain, a veteran himself, received 65% of the military vote, while Mitt Romney in 2012 and Congressional Republicans in 2014 outpolled their Democratic opponents by about 20 points, according to polls dating to August. According to Chris Wilson , director of research and analytics for Ted Cruz’s campaign, of the 21.8 veterans in the U.S., about 15 million are registered, and of the 1.3 million active-duty service members, 1 million are registered and about 60% of them are expected to vote. “Any Republican needs to be between 60 and 70 percent of the military vote,” Wilson told Bloomberg. In a September NBC News/Surveymonkey poll that charted the military vote in early September, Trump was leading Clinton 55% to 36%, a difference of 19 points. A more recent Fox News poll reported that Trump's lead was 17 points (51% to 34%)

Less clear is how much support the other parties have from military and veteran voters. The campaigns of Gary Johnson (Libertarian), Jill Stein, MD (Green), and Evan McMullin (independent) have all outlined policy positions on VA reform and the military.

VA Reform

Of course, there is more to the campaign than just the horse race. There are issues that separate the candidates, many of which are important to veterans, active-duty service members, and the people who care for them. All the candidates have outlined plans for reforms at the VA, although the differences are more a matter of which issues to prioritize first. Hillary Clinton’s focus for the VA is to “fundamentally reform veterans’ health care to ensure access to timely and high quality care and block efforts to privatize the VA,” and to “build a 21st-century Department of Veterans Affairs to deliver world-class care.” Secondary to that, Clinton promises to “overhaul VA governance.”

By contrast, Donald Trump offered a 10-point plan for VA reform with a focus on rooting out bad actors. Trump devoted 3 points in his plan to firing VA employees. Point 2 pledged to “use the powers of the presidency to remove and discipline the federal employees and managers who have violated the public’s trust and failed to carry out the duties on behalf of our veterans.” Point 3 tasked Congress to enact legislation that “empowers the Secretary of the VA to discipline or terminate any employee who has jeopardized the health, safety or well-being of a veteran,” and point 4 promised to “create a commission to investigate all the fraud, cover-ups, and wrong-doing that has taken place in the VA.”


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