QUANTICO, Va. -- One of the largest U.S. marine bases in the world is located in Quantico, a tidy town with scant election fanfare. Everyone who lives here just assumes Republicans have a lock on the military vote. And so when Obama signs began to appear, tongues began to wag.
"At first I was worried about how my neighbors would view it," said former marine corporal Dawn Jennings, 31, who bravely put an Obama sign in the center of her front yard. Jennings told OffTheBus that Quantico is the "kind of place where they'll ask you to remove an Obama bumper sticker from your car."
Barack Obama is promising to make college affordable for all Americans, and this appeals to Jennings. "I can't imagine telling my two kids, "No college for you, because I voted for McCain." She emailed all of her military friends, encouraging them to register two new voters. "It's time to take a stand," said the marine vet. "I want us to be like Michigan -- I'd love to see John McCain quit campaigning in Virginia, too."
Jennings isn't the only Obama supporter in Quantico -- not by a long shot -- and this should raise a red flag for the McCain camp. In hotly contested states with large military populations, these voters can make an impact because they turn out to vote in higher percentages (79/64) than the general public, according to a Rand study.
John McCain assumes he has a lock on the military vote -- but does he?
Military Voter Surveys Can Be Misleading
The Military Times recently released its annual survey of subscribers, which shows McCain-Palin enjoying a commanding lead over Obama-Biden (68/23 percent). But this is not a random sample by any stretch of the imagination. Military Times subscribers are significantly older than the active military population. Nearly half of those surveyed are retirees, and minorities are under-represented.
"Everyone I talk to wants change but on base you can't say certain things. At a bar or a party, everyone tells me they're voting for Obama," said Thomas Singleton, 27, a former military telecommunications specialist who was speaking to OffTheBus outside the National Museum of the Marine Corps. Perched on a hill in Quantico, the museum's stunning roof line can be seen for miles. Its design -- a 200-foot tilted mast atop a huge glass atrium -- was inspired by the famous Iwo Jima flag raising of World War II.
"My military friends are tired of being lied to," said Singleton. "They're told to deploy for six months, but it ends up being a year. And when they come home, they can't find a job. One of my friends is staying in the Army only because he can't find a civilian job."
The genuine patriotism these young people feel is complicated by events in Iraq, and grumblings about military miscalculations. "I was proud to go to Iraq, but when I got there all we did for weeks was play cards. We were unprepared. We had the wrong supplies," said Skye Spann, 27, a former medical specialist. "It didn't seem like we had a clear mission."
Deployed Troops Give Four Times More Money To Obama
People in all branches of the service are getting tired of repeated deployments. "I think more of them will vote for Obama than McCain," said Jennings. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, deployed troops are putting their money where their mouth is: they've given four times as much money to Obama as McCain.
"Any assumption that the military vote is overwhelmingly in favor of the Republican Party -- based on demographics alone -- is suspect at the very least," said Donald S. Inbody, a retired Navy Captain who is on the political science faculty at Texas State University. Inbody also is a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas in Austin, where he is researching the political attitudes and behavior of the American military enlisted person.
For years, the Republicans have enjoyed a reputation for taking care of the troops. But now, at all levels of the military, there's a general dissatisfaction with the leadership in Washington. Inbody told OffTheBus, "We know from several studies that the officer corps, especially senior officers, identify strongly with the Republican Party. But it is more likely that junior officers and enlisted personnel more nearly mirror the general American population when it comes to party identification and voting behavior."
According to Inbody, this could result in a 1.2 to 1 advantage for Obama in military communities, especially if the campaign "isn't tone deaf" to the groundbreaking inroads that are possible.