Among troops contributing to four leading Democratic candidates, these military service members together gave 51% of their campaign cash to Sanders. He got more than Buttigieg, Warren and Biden combined.
Counting all five leading candidates including Trump, active-duty troops collectively gave Sanders 39% and Trump just 24%. Biden did worst, at 9%.
Military personnel cut a wide swath across voter demographics, fueling hope that by January 2021 America could have a strong progressive presidential administration, potentially the strongest in US history.
Seth Harp, a military veteran and noted conflict-zone journalist, penned the Rolling Stone piece and reported the data (appended below). He explained:
Though only a proxy measure, it could be a significant bellwether. The military employs 1.4 million people... they represent a vast cross-section of America, from Alaska to Hawaii to Maine. The military is hugely diverse... Most enlisted recruits come from Sunbelt states like Florida and South Carolina, or deindustrialized Midwestern states like Ohio and Pennsylvania...
In other words, many in the military come from swing states. Harp also pointed out:
The simplest explanation for the flow of military donations to Sanders would be his unstinting opposition to disastrous foreign wars... [Also,] service members...already receive the sort of health and educational benefits that he wants to make universal... They understand that being able to go to the doctor or attend college for free is not [like communism]... Personally, I don't know what I would do without the V.A. The facility that I go to in Texas is convenient and free... Making the same benefits available to all Americans would have been a much better use of the...fortune we squandered in Iraq. That attitude is not uncommon among the rank-and-file. [Emphasis mine.]
If Harp's observation holds true, then single-payer universal healthcare, aka Medicare for All, could help drive a potential Sanders landslide this November.
These data validate progressive efforts to defeat a deeply entrenched political machine. Active-duty troops are now showing us what’s possible. Given the trend, it looks like we really could elect a President Sanders — and even perhaps majorities in the House and Senate.
Both will be needed to fully open the way to true justice for all.
DATA SOURCE: Federal Election Commission data collected by the Center for Responsive Politics, as reported 1/31/20 by Seth Harp, Rolling Stone. Percentages calculated and compiled by Ira Dember. Dollars rounded to $000. Percentages rounded to 1%. Chart gaphics: Ira Dember, MedicareForAll.us.
STATISTICAL NOTES – FOR WONKS ONLY
Caution: If you are not a wonk, there is a 99.5% probability this section will make your eyes glaze over. To stay out of the weeds, do not read!
Readily available sources don't tell us how many active-duty troops have contributed to Sanders. So where did the 10,000 figure come from? And what does it mean? Glad you asked!
As reported, active-duty military personnel donated $186,000 to Sanders. (Source: Federal Election Commission data from the Center for Responsive Politics, reported by Seth Harp in Rolling Stone).
The Sanders campaign itself reported an average $18 donation for 2019.
$186,000 ÷ $18 = ~10,000 donations IF the average donation size held true for active-duty troops — not a given.
The average donation size could be smaller for active-duty troops because they may have less disposable income than their civilian counterparts. Here's why:
US Army base pay for a newly recruited private is $20,800 a year, rising to $27,600 for a Private First Class after 6 years of service. A freshly minted Second Lieutenant gets $39,400 — not a lot of money on which to raise a young family, even with Army benefits. (Figures rounded.) https://www.goarmy.com/benefits/money/basic-pay-active-duty-soldiers.html
Further, in 2018 a financial industry source estimated that... 44% of active duty military members received a payday loan last year, 68% obtained a tax refund loan, 53% used a non-bank check-cashing service and 57% used a pawn shop — those are all extraordinarily high use rates. For context, less than 10% of all consumers obtained each of those same alternative financial products and services last year. https://www.americanbanker.com/opinion/why-are-payday-loans-so-popular-with-the-military
Payday loans are predatory high-cost loans peddled to borrowers who are desperate. An abusive payday lender, Cash America, boasted in its 2012 annual report, “....we’ve built a thriving business...when, often, our customers have nowhere else to turn.”
Federal law shields military personnel from some of the worst abuses.
Now add it up: relatively low pay plus sky-high rates of desperation borrowing suggest that active-duty troops likely are not lavish political donors. On average, they might not afford to give much as comparable civilians.
A lower average donation, if true, means the number of Sanders donations could be higher than 10,000 to hit that $186,000 total number.
Soldiers' personal finances could also mean they might not give as frequently as their civilian counterparts. Fewer multiple donations would mean more donors would be needed to hit the total amount contributed.
This is largely guesswork and could be wrong. But in the absence of hard facts, logic leads us here.
On balance, then, 10,000 active-duty troops contributing to Sanders seems a reasonable guesstimate. It might even be on the low side.
By contrast, many phone surveys poll 1,000 to 1,500 likely voters. For political pollsters, that's a typical sample size.
When gauging results, a smaller sample equates to less reliable findings. This statistical uncertainty is reflected in a higher margin of error. As the sample size grows, so does our confidence in the results. There's less statistical uncertainty; the margin of error shrinks.
Thus a sample size of perhaps 10,000 people or more can give us relatively high confidence in the results. It doesn't tell us what those results may mean, or what the implications may be, but the statistical results themselves offer a solid starting place.
So when 10,000+ relatively low-paid people chip in to support a political candidate, it could really mean something.
...And because the US military draws disproportionately from working-class families in swing states, it could point to very encouraging news for Sanders' electoral chances in 2020.