Sanders speaks

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. speaks to reporters outside the White House in Washington, Thursday, June 9, 2016, following a meeting with President Barack Obama.

WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders may fall short of winning the Democratic presidential nomination, but it won’t be for lack of support from ranks of the U.S. military.

Sanders has gotten more contributions from those who work for the Department of Defense or a branch of the military than any other candidate, according to a new analysis by the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan group that tracks campaign funding.

Sanders has received $374,600 from the military, surpassing $247,649 raised by presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump’s $15,502.

To observers, the donations reflect the youth of service members and Sanders’ resonance among their age group.

“Sanders is crushing everybody with young voters,” said Jon Soltz, a former Army officer in Iraq and chairman of the liberal veterans group VoteVets.org.

Sanders, who trails Clinton in the delegate count, is vowing to fight until the Democratic convention in Philadelphia next month.

But Clinton’s supporters – buoyed by last week’s endorsements from President Barack Obama and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren – are eager to turn from a hotly contested primary and focus on a showdown with Trump.

For supporters of the former secretary of state, including Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Massachusetts, the study’s significance is Trump’s apparent lack of support within the military.

Soltz said Trump’s lack of contributions shows he “doesn’t have a small-donor program.”

“Donald Trump’s campaign is amateurish,” he said, adding that a growing number of minorities and women in the military aren’t supporting him.

Amy Bailey, an assistant professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago who studies the demographics of those in the armed forces, said enthusiasm for Sanders illustrates the sometimes unexpected attitudes of a youthful military.

Forty percent of active duty and selected Reserve members are 25 or younger, while another 21 percent are between ages 26 and 30, according to Defense Department figures.

“I do think a big part of it is the demographic story,” she said.

The military’s relative youth also shows up in attitudes about hot-button social issues.

Bailey noted a study by West Point researcher Morten Ender that found slightly more than half of ROTC and West Point cadets oppose barring transgender people from the military.

Nearly three-fourths said serving with transgender people would have no effect on them, according to the study published in April in the journal Armed Forces and Society.

While their responses were less accepting of transgender people than civilian college students, Bailey said young service members still reflect the more accepting attitudes of their generation. Those beliefs make them more open to supporting even a self-described socialist senator from Vermont.

Bailey said Clinton’s support for the Iraq war could also be a factor that tips military support toward Sanders.

Veterans for Bernie, a pro-Sanders group, did not return press inquiries, but in a blog post about the Center for Responsive Politics analysis, the group cited Clinton’s backing of the war among the reasons for his popularity.

Neither the Clinton campaign nor a pro-Clinton group, Veterans for Hillary, responded to press inquiries.

Clinton has promised to decrease wait times at the Veterans Health Administration, as well as the time it takes to process Veterans Administration benefits claims. She also promises to improve healthcare for women and LGBT veterans, as well as child care and other services for military families.

Soltz and Moulton, the Massachusetts congressman and former Marine Corps officer in Iraq, said Trump’s lack of financial support from the military reflects a broader lack of support within the armed forces.

But recent polls contradict the point.

In an unscientific poll of subscribers, Military Times found Trump leading Clinton, 54 percent to 21 percent. Trump also leads in a hypothetical match-up with Sanders, 51 percent to 38 percent.

A Morning Consult poll of 951 active duty troops, Reservists and National Guardsmen last month had Trump leading Clinton, 47 percent to 38 percent.

That was smaller than the 24-percent lead that Mitt Romney, the 2008 Republican nominee, held over President Barack Obama among veterans in a Gallup poll, Soltz said.

Moulton said in an interview that a number of Trump’s comments, as well as a squabble over his contributions to veterans groups, have turned off members of the military.

“Many of his policies – like endorsing torture, discriminating against Muslims based on religion, killing innocent relatives of Muslims – are not legal and unconstitutional,” Moulton said.

For active-duty military serving in dangerous assignments, Trump’s remarks are not only “embarrassing,” they can put them at greater risk, Moulton said.

Trump’s relative lack of donations from the military could be due to his promises to self-finance his campaign until he entered a joint fundraising deal with the Republican National Committee last month.

Neither Trump’s campaign nor the organization Veterans for Donald Trump 2016 returned inquiries.

Concerned Veterans for America, a conservative veterans group, declined comment.

Trump has promised to improve the Veterans Health Administration, partly by allowing patients to see private doctors if they face long waits.

Kery Murakami is the Washington, D.C. reporter for CNHI’s newspapers and websites. Reach him at kmurakami@cnhi.com.

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