While Democratic views on the importance of strengthening the military have declined slightly during the Obama years, Republican views have undergone a V-shaped turnaround, declining through 2012, then shooting upwards, according to Pew polling. The partisan gap, Pew notes, is now widest “over the fifteen year history of this question.”
Three points about this poll seem worth making:
First, it suggests that political polarization is widening in scope. Pollsters and political scientists have reported for years that the gap in opinion between Republicans and Democrats was widening steadily on issues like taxes, abortion, and gun rights. But on the military, as the chart above shows, the difference, while substantial, was relatively steady since the turn of the century. The sudden divergence between Republicans and Democrats means that the tenor of our public debates over the military may be about to get even more rancorous.
Second, the Democratic trend line suggests that the party is relatively comfortable with the Jeffersonian direction in which the President has led it on foreign policy. “This school of thought,” WRM has written, “believes that the principles of the American Revolution fare best when American foreign policy is least active.” Jeffersonianism has a long history in America, but it has historically run into trouble in the face of global chaos and cruelty.
This leads us to the third and most significant point: The GOP’s repudiation of Jeffersonianism over the last four years. The more passive, libertarian strain within the GOP has given way to a fervent Jacksonianism—strong nationalism combined with a willingness to use overwhelming force to destroy America’s enemies. This is an understandable response given the foreign policy failures over the last eight years, and the Hamiltonian establishment has not yet figured out how to harness it.