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Military takes top U.S. confidence rankings

WASHINGTON -- Americans continue to express high confidence in the armed forces, with more than three-quarters of those surveyed in a recent Gallup poll reporting higher confidence in the military than in other national institutions for the 14th consecutive year.

Seventy-eight percent of the 1,020 respondents in the poll, taken earlier this month and released last week, reported high esteem for the military.

Forty-seven percent said they have a "great deal" of confidence in the military, the highest rating, and 31 percent reported "quite a lot" of confidence. That rating was 14 percent higher than for the second-ranking institution, small business, and 22 percent higher than for the third-ranking institution, the police.

Other organizations' rankings, in descending order of high confidence, were: organized religion, 48 percent; the medical system, 39 percent; the U.S. Supreme Court, 37 percent; the presidency, 35 percent; the public schools, 34 percent; the criminal justice system, 28 percent; newspapers, 28 percent; television news, 27 percent; banks, 23 percent; organized labor, 21 percent; big business, 19 percent; and health maintenance organizations, 19 percent. Congress received the lowest high-confidence ranking, at 12 percent.

The military has been the top-ranked national institution every year since 1998, and also from 1989 to 1996, Gallup officials reported.

Confidence levels in most of the institutions polled in 2011 were below historical averages, with the notable exception of the military. The 78-percent military confidence ranking for 2011 was 11 points above the historical average.

Public confidence in the military tends to run high when the U.S. is actively engaged in military operations, officials said, citing the all-time 85-percent high confidence ranking in early 1991, just after the first Persian Gulf War ended.

Ratings have ranged between 69 percent and 82 percent over the last decade, during U.S. military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, officials reported.

Another Gallup poll, also conducted earlier this month and released June 21, demonstrated that Americans consider the ground forces most essential to national defense. Twenty-five percent of the 1,020 adults surveyed ranked the Army the most important service, up from 18 percent in 2001. The Marine Corps ranked second this year, at 24 percent, up from 14 percent in 2001.

Seventeen percent of respondents called the Air Force the most important service branch to national defense, compared to 42 percent in 2001; 11 percent cited the Navy, compared to 15 percent in 2001; and 3 percent cited Coast Guard, which was not included in the 2001 survey.

Forty-six percent of the respondents named the Marine Corps the most prestigious branch of the armed forces. The Army ranked second, at 22 percent; followed by the Air Force, at 15 percent; the Navy, at 8 percent; and the Coast Guard, at 2 percent.