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First Command Reports: Military voters see pay and benefits as crucial issues in presidential election

First Command Financial Behaviors Index® reveals majority of middle-class service members identify defense spending, sequestration and retirement benefits as key election issues

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FORT WORTH, Texas – Defense spending, sequestration and government retirement benefits have emerged as key pay and benefit issues that may significantly influence the votes of America’s career military in the upcoming presidential election.

The First Command Financial Behaviors Index® reveals that 83 percent of middle-class military families (senior NCOs and commissioned officers in pay grades E-5 and above with household incomes of at least $50,000) say military retirement and other benefits are an extremely or very important issue in choosing who they will vote for in November. This compares to just 48 percent of the general population of middle-class families.

Following close behind are two related financial matters –defense spending and sequestration. Among military voters, 81 percent selected defense spending and 74 percent picked sequestration as extremely or very important election issues. In contrast, civilian voters picked these issues at a rate of 57 percent and 50 percent, respectively.

“The notable gaps between military and civilian voters on these important national issues underscore the continuing financial uncertainty and concern being experienced by America’s career service member families,” said Scott Spiker, CEO of First Command. “Defense spending, sequestration and the new military retirement are uniquely personal issues for those who have made the military their career. Defense cuts inflame concerns because they impact military pay and benefits. Sequestration adds fuel to that fire by intensifying feelings of uncertainty about the future. And the new military retirement system is a critical concern for many of today’s career service members, who will have to decide in 2018 between sticking with the current guarantees of the traditional retirement pension or opting in to the new system that promises cash contributions but at the cost of a 20 percent cut in their lifetime pension.”

Sequestration is an ongoing concern in America’s career military. The Index reveals that sequester cuts are identified as an extremely or very important election issue by about the same percentage of military voters who picked it during the 2012 presidential campaign.  Sequestration was identified as a key issue by about half of general population voters in 2012, which is about the same as this year. The Index reveals that three out of four career military families feel anxious about sequestration and only half believe Congress will void sequestration before the full return to these automatic budget cuts in 2018.

Critical money-related election issues identified by both military and general population voters include:

  • Social Security. This election issue was identified as extremely or very important by about three quarters of respondents (77 percent of military families and 74 percent of their civilian counterparts).
  • Cost of healthcare. This issue was also selected by about the same percentage of military and civilian voters (82 percent and 81 percent). It was also the top issue identified by general population survey respondents.
  • Private sector jobs (72 percent versus 62 percent).

First Command has been surveying consumers on their presidential voting intentions as part of its ongoing research into how defense downsizing and changes to military pay and benefits are affecting the financial lives of middle-class military families.

“At a time when economic issues at home and abroad continue to worry many Americans, service members and their families are facing the added concerns of how their lives will be impacted by defense cuts and the broader reshaping of the U.S. military,” Spiker said. “Military families are understandably concerned about the changes that may impact their household finances. These election survey findings suggest that the majority of middle-income service members expect to cast their votes for the presidential candidate who they feel best understands and is most committed to resolving significant issues that directly affect their long-term financial security.”

About First Command Financial Behaviors Index®

Compiled by Sentient Decision Science, Inc., the First Command Financial Behaviors Index® assesses trends among the American public’s financial behaviors, attitudes and intentions through a monthly survey of approximately 530 U.S. consumers aged 25 to 70 with annual household incomes of at least $50,000. Results are reported quarterly. The margin of error is +/- 4.3 percent with a 95 percent level of confidence. Financial Behaviors Index

About Sentient Decision Science, Inc.

Sentient Decision Science was commissioned by First Command to compile the Financial Behaviors Index®. SDS is a behavioral science and consumer psychology consulting firm with special vertical expertise within the financial services industry. SDS specializes in advanced research methods and statistical analysis of behavioral and attitudinal data.

About First Command

First Command Financial Services and its subsidiaries, including First Command Bank and First Command Financial Planning, assist American families in their efforts to build wealth, reduce debt and pursue their lifetime financial goals and dreams—focusing on consumer behavior as the first and most powerful determinant of results. Through knowledgeable advice and coaching of the financial behaviors conducive to success, First Command Financial Advisors have built trustworthy, lasting relationships with hundreds of thousands of client families since 1958.


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