Looking for Leaders? Look to Veterans!

There is no evidence so far that veterans have an advantage when they run for political office.  A study of congressional races from 2000 to 2014 showed that a having a military background had “no systemic, measurable effect” on electoral outcomes.

The question though is this: will this time be different? Will running as a veteran in the 2018 congressional elections prove advantageous in a way it has not previously?

I would bet yes. I would bet that the sea change in our political culture, and in our national discourse, will motivate voters to turn to candidates whose leadership skills are proven as opposed to promised. I would bet that in the time of Trump more Americans than not are disgusted with political leaders who are political amateurs.

In Professionalizing Leadership (Oxford, 2018) I wrote about how each of the armed services teaches how to lead in a way that civilians do not. In the military learning to lead is process that is far harder and longer, far better and richer, than it is on the outside.

Americans are not oblivious to this. On some level we understand that leadership, and for that matter followership, in the military are generally superior – which is precisely why the military is the single American institution that escapes our scorn. It is the single American institution that we still hold in consistently high esteem.

No surprise then that the large number of candidates who are veterans – – at least 28 female veterans are seeking House seats; another four are running for the Senate – are playing to their military background. In so doing they are playing to what Americans now see as their strength.


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