The numbers of enlisted members of America’s military have been declining dramatically since the cessation of mandatory conscription after the Vietnam War. Now, fewer than 10 percent of Americans have military experience, far smaller numbers than the veteran age ranging from World War II to Korea and the Gulf War.
On a related note, the numbers of veterans represented in political office have also seen a corresponding downturn. Currently, those with military experience make up about 39 percent of Congress. This is a stark differential from the 1970s peak of over 80 percent represented in Congress seats.
Of course, much of this decline in numbers can be attributed to the overall lessening of veteran numbers. However, with the general public’s approval rating of Congress also seeing a steady decline in recent decades, it’s important that veterans continue to have a voice and a representation of interests in political office.
The past few sitting presidents do not have military experience — George W. Bush was the most recent president, with experience in the Air National Guard. Previously, it was nearly unheard of for the president to be without military experience.
This experience is invaluable from the perspective of representation. Veterans’ voices are widely respected, and the leadership and, in some instances, combat experience can be utilized and called upon when it comes to foreign policy and the enactment of measures that affect the military and their families.
Indeed, despite the overall decline of veteran population numbers, there are still small increases to be seen in instances of veterans or those with military experience running for office. For the first time since the 1980s, veteran numbers saw a small increase in Congress following the 2010 election. It’s important to continue supporting veteran candidates to ensure their presence is still felt in office for decades to come.
Why do veterans choose to run for office? These reasons vary, but much of it comes down to the idea that serving in politics is a natural progression and a fitting “second service” for those who wish to continue within the same vein. In addition, it’s thought that veterans may be inherently more difficult to campaign against, as their code of honor typically garners automatic respect and willingness to listen.
However, it’s worth being cautious. Again, as overall veteran numbers decline, so does the connection the general public may feel to those with military experience. Now, more than ever, fewer Americans can relate to the experience of serving in the military. This may be a detriment to candidates who position their veteran status as a primary leg for their platform to be built on. After all, it’s important that voters feel a connection to the candidate, so this is a factor that must be considered when running for office.
Are veterans truly seeing a resurgence in office? As of the 2018 election cycle, the number of veterans in Congress has declined again. While the number of representatives stands at nearly 100 for this class of Congress, there is still an opportunity to continue to support those veterans who wish to run for office. After all, their voices and expertise are invaluable and should always have a strong presence in our political infrastructure.