After the midterms: Veterans in the 116th Congress – AEI – American Enterprise Institute: Freedom, Opportunity, Enterprise21st November 2018
Congress passed the Authorization for Use of Military Force on September 14th, 2001, nearly seventeen years prior to the month that the American people elected 80 military veterans to represent them in Congress. When the 116th Congress convenes on January 3rd, 2019, nearly half of the military veterans serving in Congress will be post-9/11 veterans.
Unlike previous election cycles that have run simultaneously with or after periods of war, the numbers of post-9/11 veterans running in the last several elections are hardly a reflection of an increased percentage of American adults having volunteered to serve in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan. To date, there are roughly 3.3 million veterans who’ve served since September 11th, 2001. (Nearly 9 million served during the Vietnam War; 16 million during World War II.) Rather than it being about sheer numbers then, it’s probable that contemporary veteran candidates are motivated to “second service” by some degree of heightened awareness of public service.
Over the past few elections, for instance, veterans seem demonstrably more willing to run for office, including in long-shot races, than their civilian peers. Political scientists have measured a net decrease in political ambition in the “candidate eligibility pool” in general — but this doesn’t seem equally true of veterans. Increasing amounts of veterans have run in elections since 2010, though the nearly 300 veterans who mounted campaigns in the 2018 primaries were comparable to 2016 numbers.
On Election Day 2018, 173 veterans remained on the ballots. At least 21 races became a veteran vs. veteran showdown, nearly guaranteeing that the total number of veterans in the 116th Congress would be fewer than the initial number of veterans serving in the 115th Congress. By the time November rolled around, the 115th Congress had dropped to fewer than 100 veterans (96), due to several veteran legislators taking up posts in the Trump administration, resigning, or passing away. However, even with several more veterans deciding not to pursue reelection, there should be at least 95 serving in the 116th Congress — 77 in the House, and 18 in the Senate (15 veteran Senators were not up for reelection this term). And while the numbers skew Republican as in the past, a little more than a third of veteran candidates ran as Democrats. Out of the 14 military women on ballots this November, the three who will be freshmen members in January are Democrats.
While the 2018 elections did not feature either the most veterans running for office or elected for office (that distinction belongs to the 1970s, when veterans made up nearly two-thirds of Congress), the new freshman class will feature 16 veterans, which does outnumber incoming veterans elected in 2016, 2014, and 2012. And it’s entirely probable that that number will inch larger in upcoming elections: Across the 50 states, numerous state-level races featured veterans. Three veterans won their gubernatorial contest in Florida, Minnesota, and South Carolina, for instance, along with the Secretary of State candidate in Idaho and two Attorneys General in South Carolina and South Dakota. This is not to mention the certain hundreds of other veterans who ran in state legislative races — one of the most traditional pathways to later service in the US Congress. With over 1,000 state legislators already serving with military service on their resume, the pipeline of veterans in public office is sure to be robust for the foreseeable future.