Public opinion of the UK Armed Forces
To gauge people's overall view we asked them:
What is your general opinion of the UK Armed Forces?
We also invited them to say whether, on the whole, they respected the Armed Forces as a profession based on what they knew or had heard about them. As seen in Table 8.1 the response to both questions was very positive indeed. More than eight out of ten people say they hold a "high" or "very high" opinion of the Armed Forces. By contrast, only three per cent express negative opinions ("low" or "very low"), while another 13 per cent describe their opinion as "neither high nor low". It is, similarly, evident that most people (75 per cent) have "a great deal of respect" for the Armed Forces, with another 20 per cent stating they have "some respect". Just two per cent say they have "not a lot" of respect.
The responses reveal only small gender differences - and not in any consistent direction. Men are a little more likely to express a "very high" opinion of the Armed Forces, while women are slightly more likely to say they have "a great deal" of respect for them. However, attitudes do vary somewhat between age groups. Although seven out of ten people aged 18-34 (73 per cent) say they have a "high" or "very high" opinion of the Armed Forces, this is considerably lower than the nine out of ten respondents aged 65 and over taking the same view (92 per cent). Indeed, the percentage among the oldest age group that report a "very high" opinion (50 per cent) is almost double that reported in the youngest age group (30 per cent). The public's good opinion of the military is seen to increase steadily with age, while there is a decline in the very small proportions expressing a low opinion (from five per cent to just one per cent). Similarly, the proportion saying their opinion is "neither high nor low" drops from 21 per cent to six per cent. However, this may represent a cohort effect (with today's younger generations being generally less supportive of the Armed Forces than their predecessors) rather than indicating that views about the Armed Forces grow more positive over time.
The age gradient for replies to our question about respect is less marked. Seven out of ten respondents aged 18-34 say they respect the Armed Forces, compared with almost eight out of ten in the two oldest age groups. The proportion saying they don't have a lot of respect falls from just four per cent of the youngest respondents to only one per cent among those aged 35 and over.
Examining people's views by educational qualification (Table 8.2), we also find strong support for the Armed Forces across all groups. Almost eight out of ten graduates (79 per cent) declare a "high" or "very high" opinion, moving closer to nine out of ten (87 per cent) among those without qualifications. Our second question about respect for the Armed Forces produces a wider difference of view between the six out of ten graduates (62 per cent) who answer "a great deal" and the eight out of ten with lower (78 per cent) or no qualifications (81 per cent) who say the same. However, only four per cent of graduates state they have "not a lot" or "no respect at all", falling to two per cent or less among those with lower qualifications. Most people holding higher qualifications are far from dismissive of the military but their responses do indicate a more mixed evaluation of the Armed Forces than other educational groups.
When it comes to political sympathies, Table 8.3 shows that a higher proportion of those who identify with the Conservatives (five out of ten) express a very high opinion of the Armed Forces than of those (around four out of ten) who support Labour, the Liberal Democrats, or smaller parties. But the differences are not as great as some might expect. When people claiming a "high" or "very high" opinion are combined, we see than nine out of ten Conservative and Liberal Democrat supporters take a positive view, as do eight out of ten who identify with Labour or other parties. Conversely, there are larger proportions of supporters of Labour and minority parties than Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who say their opinion of the Armed Forces is "neither high nor low". Meanwhile, eight out of ten Conservative supporters say they have "a great deal" of respect for the Armed Forces, compared with seven out of ten supporters of all other parties, including the Liberal Democrats. Liberal Democrat sympathisers are also a little more likely than others to adopt a restrained view, saying they have "some" respect.
Having established that most people - irrespective of age, educational qualifications or political affiliation - hold the military in high regard, it is interesting to see how this compares with their attitudes towards other professions. Do other groups inspire a comparable or even higher expression of goodwill? When inviting respondents to gauge their respect for the Armed Forces, we also asked them about three other prominent types of profession: doctors, police and lawyers. In Table 8.4 we see that the Armed Forces elicit the most enthusiastic response, although the level for doctors is similar if the totals for "a great deal" and "some" respect are combined. Moreover, although as many as one in three say they have limited or no respect for lawyers, only one in fifty say the same about the Armed Forces and doctors, and less than one in ten about the police. It seems, therefore, that the Armed Forces are popular with the public in relative as well as absolute terms.
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- See news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/1596810.stm
- A police estimate of numbers. Protest organisers suggested a figure nearer two million. See news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/2765041.stm
- 'Armed Forces Covenant recognised in law for first time', Ministry of Defence, Defence News, 3rd November, 2011, available at www.mod.uk/DefenceInternet/DefenceNews/DefencePolicyAndBusiness/ArmedForcesCovenantRecognisedInLawForFirstTime.htm
- A report by the former Liberal Democrat leader and career soldier Lord Ashcroft (2012) recently cast some light on public attitudes towards the Armed Forces, but owing to its sampling strategy the findings were not necessarily representative of the UK population as a whole.
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