President Obama has received almost twice as much in campaign contributions from U.S. military and Defense Department personnel as Republican challenger Mitt Romney, despite Romney’s promises to boost defense spending and his criticism of military cuts set to take place in January.
Obama has received $536,414 from such donors, compared with Romney’s $287,435, according to research by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics in Washington. The group’s study, which includes data through August, looked at donations from individuals who listed their employment as the Defense Department or one of the branches of the military.
Defense Department personnel led the list, giving $176,121 to Obama and $71,043 to Romney. Army personnel came in next with $165,646 for Obama and $87,218 for Romney.
Obama’s advantage probably comes in part because some of the personnel are political appointees of his administration, said Peter Feaver, a political science professor at Duke University in Durham, N.C., who has studied military personnel and their impact on elections.
“One party owns the executive branch right now, so the impact could be potentially quite large,” he said. Obama may also be winning a broader battle for support in an election that has seen both candidates “assiduously” court the military, he said.
“It appears that he does have a small but energetic supporter base in the military,” Feaver said.
The pro-Obama tilt comes even though Romney promises to boost defense spending to 4 percent of gross domestic product and to build 15 new Navy ships per year. He also is attacking Obama over $500 billion in across-the-board cuts to military programs over 10 years that begin January 2 unless a budget impasse with Congress is resolved in time.
Earlier in the election cycle, military personnel donations were overwhelmingly tilted toward Republican hopeful Ron Paul, who called for less government and opposed the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, until Obama began to overtake him in March, the Center for Responsive Politics found.
In the 2008 election cycle, the center found that Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Republican presidential nominee, took in slightly more in donations from military and Defense Department personnel, collecting $461,350 to Obama’s $450,950 through August of that year.
Defense issues have taken on added importance in the presidential election this year, in part because Virginia, the state most heavily reliant on defense dollars, is a swing state that can go either way in presidential elections. An Oct. 12-14 American Research Group poll of 750 likely Virginia voters showed Romney barely ahead in the state, 48 percent to 47 percent. That’s well within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.