Posted on 03 October 2012 by Rachel Gribble, Kings' College London
This is a guest blog by Rachel Gribble from the Kings's Centre for Military Health Research.
During the last decade of the UK’s involvement in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’ve been many debates about a lot of different problems. There have been questions about public support for these missions and the people serving in them, the accuracy of media reports of hostility towards members of the Armed Forces and whether there are enough resources available for troops and injured personnel. Despite these questions, there’s not a lot of good evidence about what the public actually thinks about these issues.
The latest British Social Attitudes report (BSA), led by NatCen Social Research looks at this issue in detail. Our team at King’s Centre for Military Health Research, with colleagues from the Aberdeen Centre for Trauma Research, worked with NatCen to help design questions about the Armed Forces for the BSA survey and analyse the data to measure public attitudes to the UK Armed Forces and their recent missions. This work was funded by the Economic and Social Research Council and the results were written up in the Report’s Armed Forces chapter.
My colleagues and I at KCMHR were really happy contribute this chapter, as it’s vital we have a tried and tested understanding of public attitudes to the military. What the public think of the Armed Forces can affect the morale of troops once they’re back home , how well they adapt to ‘civvy street’ and even how well they operate in the field. And of course, the impact of public opinion isn’t just limited to troops, it’ll also have an affect on the morale of troops’ families.
So what did we find out? Well, the really good news for troops is that the British public are highly supportive of the UK Armed Forces. When asked, nine out ten people said they respected the military and eight out of ten held a high or very high opinion. In fact, the UK Armed Forces are more respected as a profession than doctors, lawyers or the police. Men, older people, those with less education and people on the political right are likely to be the most supportive. This support also seems to have grown over time. Most people held the same views as they had over the last few years but almost 20% now held a more positive opinion of the Services
This high support for Service personnel is in sharp contrast to the public’s opposition to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We found that almost 60% of the UK public were opposed to Iraq and nearly 50% disapprove of Afghanistan. Women, older people and people supporting minor political parties are more likely to be against the missions. However, opposition to the missions does not seem to affect support for troops who have served there as 85% of the public said they supported veterans of these missions, despite how they felt about the campaigns. The public clearly has little trouble separating the politics of military missions from their attitudes towards the Service men and women who take part in them.
Overall, we found the British public to be highly supportive of their Armed Forces. This is a promising finding for relations between civil society and the military. We do not know yet if this support will remain steady over time or change once military personnel are withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014. In the short term at least, it seems likely that troops will be warmly welcomed home by the public, no matter what the public might think of the mission.