from Politics, Power, and Preventive Action and Center for Preventive Action

U.S. Public Opinion on Drone Strikes

March 18, 2013

An armed drone prepares to take off in Afghanistan (Handout/Courtesy Reuters).
Blog Post

More on:

Defense and Security

Military Operations

Although the United States has been killing suspected terrorists with drone strikes in nonbattlefield settings for over ten years, public opinion polling of the controversial tactic began only a year and a half ago. Averaged together, the polls demonstrate that 65 percent of Americans support the targeted killing of suspected terrorists, and 51 percent approve killing U.S. citizens who are suspected of terrorism.

Examining the polls below (presented in chronological order), the context and framing of the question varies widely. For example, targets are alternately described as “suspected terrorists,” “extremists,” those “deemed a threat to the United States,” and “high-level terrorism suspects.” It is also revealing that, according to a February 2013 poll, support for U.S. military drone strikes (75 percent) is considerably higher than for those conducted by the CIA (65 percent). Finally, it is remarkable how normalized drone strikes have become over the years, to the point that Americans are more comfortable with killing suspected terrorists than torturing them for information.


Washington Post/ABC News Poll, (September 1, 2011)

I’m going to name some specific actions taken by the United States after the terrorist attacks of 9/11.  For each please tell me if you think it was very effective, somewhat effective, somewhat ineffective or very ineffective at reducing the threat of terrorism against the United States? How effective is using missile strikes against suspected terrorists in Pakistan and Yemen?

CBS News Poll (November 6-10, 2011)

Is it ever okay for the United States to authorize the killing of an American citizen in a foreign country if that person is known to be a terrorist, or is that never okay?

  • Okay: 53%
  • Never Okay: 35%
  • Unsure: 12%

Washington Post/ABC News Poll (February 1-4, 2012)

Changing topics, thinking about the following decision of the Obama administration, please tell me whether you strong approve, somewhat approve, somewhat disapprove, or strongly disapprove of the use of unmanned “drone” aircraft against terrorist suspects overseas:

(If approve of drone aircraft) What if those suspected terrorists are American citizens living in other countries? In that case, do you approve or disapprove of the use of drones?

  • Approve: 79%
  • Disapprove: 17%
  • No opinion: 4%

Pew Research Center (April 2012)

Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?

  • Approve: 62%
  • Disapprove: 28%
  • Unsure: 10%

Farleigh-Dickinson PublicMind Poll  (February 7, 2013)

1)      To the best of your knowledge, can the United States target U.S. citizens living in other countries with drones, or is that illegal?

2)      In general, do you approve or disapprove of the U.S. military using drones to carry out attacks abroad on people and other targets deemed a threat to the United States?

3)      In general, do you approve or disapprove of the CIA using drone to carry out attack abroad on people and other targets deemed a threat to the United States?

Pew Research Center (July 10, 2012)

Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?

  • Approve: 55%
  • Disapprove: 34%
  • Unsure: 11%

CBS News Poll (February 6-10, 2013)

1)      Do you favor or oppose the United States using unmanned aircraft or drones to carry out bombing attacks against suspected terrorists in foreign countries?

  • Favor: 71%
  • Oppose: 20%
  • Unsure: 9%

2)      Do you favor or oppose the U.S. targeting and killing American citizens in foreign countries who are suspected of carrying out terrorist activities against the United States?

  • Favor: 49%
  • Oppose: 38%
  • Unsure: 13%

Pew Research Center (February 7-10, 2013)

Do you approve or disapprove of the United States conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft called drones to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia?

  • Approve: 56%
  • Disapprove: 26%
  • Unsure: 18%

NBC News/Wall Street Journal Poll (February 21-24, 2013)

Do you favor or oppose the use of unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, to kill suspected members of al-Qaeda and other terrorists?

  • Favor: 64%
  • Oppose: 12%
  • Don’t know enough: 22%
  • Depends: 1%
  • Unsure: 1%

Reason-Rupe Public Opinion Survey (February 2013)

The government has used unmanned military aircraft, or drones, to kill American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists. When it comes to the use of drones, how concerned are you that the government may abuse its power…a lot, some, not too much or not at all?

  • A lot: 32%
  • Some: 27%
  • Not too much: 19%
  • Not at all: 17%
  • Don’t know/Refused: 5%

Fox News Poll (March 4, 2013)

Do you approve or disapprove of the United States using unmanned aircraft called drones:

1)      To kill a suspected terrorist in a foreign country?

  • Approve: 74%
  • Disapprove: 22%
  • Don’t know: 4%

2)      To kill a suspected terrorist in a foreign country if the suspect is a U.S. citizen?

  • Approve: 60%
  • Disapprove: 36%
  • Don’t know: 5%

3)      To kill a suspected foreign terrorist on U.S. soil?

  • Approve: 56%
  • Disapprove: 40%
  • Don’t know: 4%

4)      To kill a suspected terrorist who is a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil?

  • Approve: 45%
  • Disapprove: 50%
  • Don’t know: 5%

5)      Do you think the president of the United States, on his own, should be able to authorize the use of deadly force, such as a drone strike, to kill a suspected terrorist who is a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil?

  • Yes: 32%
  • No: 63%
  • Don’t know: 5%

YouTube/Huffington Post Poll (March 6, 2013)

1)      Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama administration using drones to kill high-level terrorism suspects overseas?

  • Approve: 53%
  • Disapprove: 22%
  • Not Sure: 25%

2)      Do you approve or disapprove of the Obama administration using drones to kill high-level terrorism suspects overseas even if those suspects are American citizens?

  • Approve: 42%
  • Disapprove: 30%
  • Not sure: 29%

3)      Which of these comes closest to your opinion on whether it should be legal for the president to target a U.S. citizen inside the United States using a drone strike?

  • This should be legal in extraordinary circumstances: 33%
  • There are no circumstances when this should be legal: 47%
  • Not sure: 20%
Up
Close