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.