The Geography and Political Leanings of Veterans

Veterans Day is being celebrated across American today, but the nation’s veterans are not spread evenly around the country and a community’s politics can be a pretty good indicator of where they live.

Looking at the nation’s through the prism of the American Communities Project’s 15 county types there seem to be a few pretty consistent rules for finding veterans – look for places that are more rural and that lean more Republican.

Nationally, veterans make up about 9% of the over 18 U.S. population. But in the American Communities Project, a journalism/political science effort at American University, nine county types have 18-or-older veteran populations in the double-digits and eight of them vote Republican consistently, and most of them are places with low population densities.

You can see the populations charted below.

Some of the numbers in that chart make obvious sense, such as the highest percentage of veterans living in Military Post communities, 16.9%. Those counties, mostly located in and around military bases, were bound to have higher numbers.

But some of the other numbers are more interesting. Note, for instance, the higher figure in the Exurbs, 10.5%. There isn’t any inherent reason why veterans would be more likely to settle in those communities geographically speaking. They aren’t necessarily closer to military bases.

Similarly, the lowest veteran figure, in the Big Cities, 7.1%, isn’t immediately obvious, though it likely has something to do with the median age of those communities.  Veterans tend to be older than the population at large and the Big Cities have higher percentages of younger people.

The 15 county types are mapped below.

There are any number of other forces that may be driving the veteran population differences – from self-selection caused by people to moving, to lower living costs in more rural communities – but the larger point is these populations tend to reinforce the natural lean political lean of the communities where they reside.

Polls in 2012 showed that veterans were much more likely to back Republican Mitt Romney than President Barack Obama.

In other words, in some cities and towns you are much more likely to live near veterans, which may make to you see those populations and their concerns differently. It may also make your community more politically conservative.

None of that has an impact on whether the country will honor its veterans today. In big cities and small town there will be parades and remembrances and in Washington DC more than half a million people are expected for a massive concert honoring those who have served.

But the numbers serve as a reminder that the community you call home matters in many different ways even on a national holiday such as Veterans Day.

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