A major new poll of more than 2,000 active and veteran U.S. military personnel surveying attitudes on a range of cultural, political, and sexual issues, including transgender and immigrant soldiers, was created by a team of Schar School of Policy and Government graduate students, led by political science professor Delton Daigle and conducted in partnership with Smithsonian Magazine and the Stars and Stripes military newspaper.
Stars and Stripes provided the list of 23,000 possible respondents while Smithsonian Magazine coordinated and financed the effort. The Schar School team, said Terry Monmaney, deputy editor of the Smithsonian Magazine, “did everything in between.”
“We knew what questions we wanted to ask, but we didn’t know how to ask them,” Monmaney said. “Delton [Daigle] did.”
Schar School professor Daigle is a specialist in public opinions polls. His team included George Mason University political science PhD candidate Erica Seng-White, political science PhD student Jordan Cohen, and first-year master’s of political science student Josephine Neulen, who recently graduated with honors from the Schar School’s bachelor of arts in government and international politics program.
The Schar School team created the questions in collaboration with Smithsonian Magazine, compiled and analyzed the data, and wrote summaries of the findings. In all, the effort took about two months, Daigle said.
The students learned the delicate craft of creating poll questions and how to use sophisticated research and analytic tools for a national survey. The results, they said, were sometimes surprising.
“One of the most interesting findings was the role that gender played in shaping the experiences and perceptions of military personnel,” said Seng-White. “One example of this is that non-males in the survey—42 percent—were more likely to have witnessed sexual harassment.” Seventeen percent of males said they had witnessed sexual assault or harassment.
“To me, the most interesting finding was the different views from officers and those who are enlisted,” said Cohen. Officers and enlisted personnel differed widely on views about social media, discrimination, the continuation of conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and their thoughts on “the greatest threats to the United States.”
“The issues we asked about in the survey are generally topics people are very passionate about, and it was fascinating to be able to track people's opinions about certain things,” said Neulen, who programmed the survey questions.
The survey was commissioned for Smithsonian’s “America at War” edition and was released in January. The results were also published in Stars and Stripes at the same time.
Since the release of the survey, media outlets around the country have been reporting on the Schar School survey results. Among other findings, the survey revealed that 65.8 percent of female service-members said they had experienced sexual assault or harassment, compared to 6.1 percent of men. Nearly 70 percent of women experienced discrimination based on gender, compared to 6.4 percent of the me
Some 81 percent of women and over 69 percent of men supported women in ground combat, but the numbers of those who support the controversial issue dwindle in older age groups of respondents. More than 80 percent of millennials and 79 percent of Gen X respondents were in favor of women in ground combat; in contrast, 62.8 percent of those in the age classification “the Greatest Generation” and 71.8 percent of Baby Boomers supported it.
For Daigle, the exercise was an example of the Schar School’s diverse strengths.
“I love that the expertise of our faculty and graduate students at the Schar School continue to be tapped for finding answers to important and topical questions—not just by the typical ‘Beltway’ groups, but by organizations with a national and international reach,” Daigle said. “Our partnership with Stars and Stripes and Smithsonian Magazine is another fine example of this.”
“I thought this was a very successful collaboration,” Smithsonian Magazine’s Monmaney said. “I’d love to do it again sometime.”