Editor’s note: Dr. Max Margulies, MWI’s director of research, recently published a coauthored article with Dr. Jessica Blankshain of the Naval War College in Dædalus. The article examines trust between individuals and the US military, identifying new evidence for sources of trust consistent with recent reports that trust might be declining between the two.
This essay explores the individual-level determinants of trust in the US military. Prior research has identified five possible drivers of societal trust in the military: performance, professionalism, persuasion, personal connection, and partisanship. Using data from the American National Election Studies and the General Social Survey, we emphasize the importance of understanding trust at an individual level, as perceptions of military performance and professionalism are not objective but mediated by individual-level factors. Our findings reinforce mixed support for trust being linked to assessments of military success on or off the battlefield and undermine arguments that relate high trust to a widening gap between the military and civilian society. We also present new evidence for generational and ideational sources of military trust consistent with recent speculation that trust in the military is declining. Overall, we show that individual-level trust may be difficult to change but that public trust in the military has consequences for a variety of defense-oriented policies.
Dr. Max Margulies is MWI’s director of research.
Dr. Jessica Blankshain teaches in the National Security Affairs department at the Naval War College. She received her doctorate in political economy and government from Harvard University.
The views expressed are those of the authors and do not reflect the official position of the United States Military Academy, Department of the Army, or Department of Defense.
Image credit: Spc. Joshua Taeckens