Most Americans Oppose Drone Strikes on Americans in America

One in eight Americans support drone strikes against Americans on American soil.

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One in eight  Americans support drone strikes against Americans on American soil.

A new Gallup poll (“In U.S., 65% Support Drone Attacks on Terrorists Abroad“) released today shows overwhelming support for the drone program. Alyssa Brown and Frank Newport report,

Nearly two-thirds of Americans (65%) think the U.S. government should use drones to launch airstrikes in other countries against suspected terrorists. Americans are, however, much less likely to say the U.S. should use drones to launch airstrikes in other countries against U.S. citizens living abroad who are suspected terrorists (41%); to launch airstrikes in the U.S. against suspected terrorists living here (25%); and to launch airstrikes in the U.S. against U.S. citizens living here who are suspected terrorists (13%).

[…]

The survey results suggest that a majority of Americans would agree with previous U.S. drone attacks that have killed suspected terrorists living in other countries such as Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. However, the data indicate that less than a majority of Americans would have in principle supported the drone attack in the fall of 2011 against American citizens who were suspected terrorists living in Yemen. And the results show that substantial majorities of Americans are opposed to drone airstrikes “in the U.S.,” regardless of whether they are against U.S. citizens.

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[…]

Republicans are at least somewhat more likely than Democrats and independents to say the U.S. government should use drones in all four circumstances tested in the survey. While a majority in each party says the U.S. government should use drones to launch airstrikes in other countries against suspected terrorists, Republicans (79%) are significantly more likely to say so than are Democrats (55%) and independents (61%).

Half of Republicans say the U.S. government should use drones to launch airstrikes in other countries against U.S. citizens living abroad who are suspected terrorists, compared with 41% of Democrats and 35% of independents who say the same.

Although Republicans are modestly more likely than Democrats or independents to say the U.S. government should use drones in the U.S. against suspected terrorists living here or in the U.S. against U.S. citizens, support is low among all groups.

gallup-drone-poll-20130325

The POLITICO summary is pithier:

A majority of Americans oppose the use of drone strikes on U.S. soil and against American citizens wherever they may be, according to a poll on Monday, but are perfectly fine with the program’s primary use — killing suspected terrorists abroad.

I suppose we should find comfort in the fact that only 13 percent of Americans support drone strikes in America against Americans who are merely suspected of criminal activity. More Americans believe in ghosts. Still, it’s a baffling notion.

Additionally, as Glenn Greenwald points out, this is the number who support the idea in the abstract. It would almost certainly be much higher if the president launched such a strike and justified it to the American public on national security ground. And, given the times, I fully expect that the partisan reaction would flip, with Republicans suddenly much less in favor of the idea than Democrats.

Now, I suppose it’s possible to conjure up a set of circumstances in which such a strike would be acceptable. We allow domestic police to use lethal force under exigent circumstances when the life of innocents is in immediate jeopardy. But, I hasten to add, we don’t allow the assassination of people who are mere criminal suspects. The LAPD couldn’t simply have sent snipers after Charles Manson, for example; they had to actually arrest him and he had to be charged with a crime and then proven guilty in a court of law.

FILED UNDER: National Security, Public Opinion Polls, Terrorism
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Andy says:

    This whole “drone strikes in America” meme is really becoming hysterical. People should not worry about drone strikes in America for the same reason they don’t worry about F-16 or B-2 strikes in America. Drones are not some new magical weapon that defy the rules and laws under which other weapon systems operate.

  2. Tony W says:

    I heard from an acquaintance this morning that they are already flying over our cities looking for targets. People can be so gullible…..

  3. Scott says:

    We use the term suspected terrrorist so often and casually, I wonder if people have stopped and thought what that really means. Would people answer differently if the questions posed suspected terrorist vs known terrorist.? Would they differentiate between the two?

  4. C. Clavin says:

    Far-fetched? Sure.
    But how much different are cameras at intersections to catch people running red-lights……and those trailers at the side of the road with radar and a camera to catch speeders?
    How long before there’s a drone above the highway checking for speeders…like they do with airplanes?
    It’s only a matter of time my friends. Only a matter of time.

  5. Stonetools says:

    I think that drone STRIKES in the USA will be a rare event, absent some sort of apocalyptic collapse. Drone SURVEILLANCE in the USA, however, will become commonplace , starting with the US-Mexican border. After all, we need to ” secure our borders”. I can see miniature drones being used for law enforcement purposes in a 5-10 year timeframe. We already have video cameras proliferating in most public places: adding airborne ones won’t be much of a stretch. Remember the signs “Speed limits enforced by aircraft? “. Before too long, it may be “Speed limits enforced by drone”- surveillance drone, that is. I’m sure there are lots of law enforcement uses that people can think of.
    Frankly, I think talk of drone strikes in the USA are a red herring. We should be thinking much more of privacy concerns raised by pervasive drone surveillance by both the government and private industry. That’s going to be the big problem in the medium to long term.

  6. James Joyner says:

    @Andy: II concur and have written as much before. Still, the debate is ongoing and I’m struck at how far we’ve come in the notion that the government can do whatever it wants, laws be damned, against terrorism.

  7. Tsar Nicholas says:

    What’s sort of funny about polls such as this one — in the vein of tragic, ironic farce — is that a large majority of Zombieland wouldn’t know Predator drones from the predator exhibit sections at their local zoos.

    That aside, Holder didn’t graduate from Columbia Law School by accident and Obama didn’t graduate Harvard Law School by accident. And you don’t become AG of the US and POTUS, respectively, by accident. And when you become AG of the US and POTUS you get mugged by reality. Right quick. So despite the hysteria among the horrible demographics of the Internet’s chattering classes, and in various fringe politico circles too, the reality is that this whole subject is a theoretical hypothetical, but in connection therewith if and when it ever became necessary to incinerate U.S. citizen terrorists domestically, using drones or whatever other means would be necessary, that’s exactly what the government would do. For obvious reasons, although ironically enough not at all obvious to vast swaths of the Internet-media-academe-politico class cabal. Ah, well, c’est la vie.

  8. Scott O says:

    I’d like to see a poll to find out what percentage of the American people would support a drone strike on someone who uses the word “zombieland” excessively.

  9. Woody says:

    I would be surprised if we’d even use drones in the US – security forces have easy enough access anywhere in the country. As to surveillance, I’d bet a pretty penny we have satellite and Web-based programs in place already.

    What bothers me in the drone discussion is the lack of transparency under the guise of security. Then again, I find transparency, like privacy, is an old person’s value.

  10. stonetools says:

    An interesting read here is Larry Niven’s ” Cloak of Anarchy” , where in a future society laws against violence are enforced by “copseyes”- miniature drones armed with “stun rays”.
    I can see technology evolving to a stage where there can be something like “copseyes” in 10-20 years. Maybe they won’t be armed with “stunners” but maybe they’ll be armed with tear gas dispensers or ultrasound weapons.

  11. Gustopher says:

    @Woody: prepare to be surprised then. In Seattle, the police got their hands on drones without bothering to let the city council or the mayor know.

  12. Gustopher says:

    The 25% who support launching airstrikes in the U.S. against suspected terrorists living here is suspiciously close to the fabled 27% — within the margin of error for the poll. It’s only when “US Citizen” is mentioned that they get jittery and support cuts in half.

  13. “Drones strikes against Americans on American soil” is a problem invented by Rand Paul’s anti-government paranoia and political ambitions.

    It should be noted that what the government has actually been doing with domestic terrorists is giving them a FBI mole who provides them with fake bombs. They are arrested after pushing the button and then charged criminally.

  14. Gustopher says:

    But, I hasten to add, we don’t allow the assassination of people who are mere criminal suspects. The LAPD couldn’t simply have sent snipers after Charles Manson, for example; they had to actually arrest him and he had to be charged with a crime and then proven guilty in a court of law.

    I think Manson would have died in a hail of gunfire had police attempted to arrest him now rather than 40 years ago. The police have been militarized by the war on drugs, they have a lot of fancy guns, and they want to use them.

    It may just be a few bad apples, but with police protecting their bad apples in lockstep, any large gathering of police is likely to descend to the level of the bad apples.

  15. @Gustopher:

    “In Seattle, the police got their hands on drones without bothering to let the city council or the mayor know. “

    But those drones have cameras, not smart bombs.

    I can certainly understand concerns about that, the surveillance state and all that, but deploying drones that take pictures and deploying drones that take lives….those are two different things.

  16. JKB says:

    @James Pearce (Formerly Known as Herb):

    True, but then the government answered poorly. It is such poor answers that cause people to have doubts.

  17. JKB says:

    @James Joyner: @Andy: II concur and have written as much before. Still, the debate is ongoing and I’m struck at how far we’ve come in the notion that the government can do whatever it wants, laws be damned, against terrorism.

    The sad part is that the “against terrorism” part is no longer a qualifier. Far to many have come to “the notion that the government can do whatever it wants, laws be damned.”

  18. anjin-san says:

    @ JKB

    I’m struck at how far we’ve come in the notion that the government can do whatever it wants, laws be damned,

    When Democrats were questioning the rush to a security state and unfettered government power in the wake of 9.11, conservatives were calling us traitors. Republicans cheered at the top of their lungs during the vast expansion of the cost and power of the federal government under Bush.

    Now you are singing a different tune?

  19. anjin-san says:

    It is such poor answers that cause people FoxBots to have doubts.

    FTFY

  20. JKB says:

    @anjin-san:Now you are singing a different tune?

    When, pray tell, did I support the expansion of the security state?

  21. SoWhat says:

    Can’t wait to see what payback looks like when other countries, who have been droned by Obama, finally get drones for themselves.

    Oh, wait, I just remembered: Blame Bush! ™

  22. anjin-san says:

    @ SoWhat

    Can’t wait to see what payback looks like when other countries, who have been droned by Obama, finally get drones for themselves.

    If history is our guide, the answer is pretty much nothing will happen. Eventually, other nations obtain the weapons systems and associated technology that we generally have first. Remember when the use of GPS in combat stunned Iraq during Gulf I? Now everyone has it on their cell phones. How many attacks have we suffered as a result?

    At any rate, should another nation attack us with drones at some point, they will get back 10,000 times what they gave. I am guessing that that is an unacceptable risk/reward equation.

    It is worth noting that you seem to be actually rooting for an attack on our country, simply because it would make Obama look bad.

  23. anjin-san says:

    @JKB

    When, pray tell, did I support the expansion of the security state?

    When, pray tell, did I say you did? Work on your reading comprehension.

  24. wr says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: What the hell are you talking about? There isn’t a sentence here that makes a lick of sense in any known language.

  25. wr says:

    I’m opposed to drone strikes on Americans, except in the case of Kardashians. I think that puts me comfortably in the majority.

  26. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @wr:

    What the hell are you talking about?

    Killing people is good and if you weren’t such a dedicated member of Zombieland you would know that.

  27. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @wr:

    I’m opposed to drone strikes on Americans, except in the case of Kardashians.

    Not me. I think they should get a fair trial, found guilty, then properly hung.

  28. PogueMahone says:

    @C. Clavin: “It’s only a matter of time.”

    Time’s up!

    Yeah. What could possibly go wrong when we arm police with unmanned, potentially armed drones?

    “We’re not going to use it to be invading somebody’s privacy. It’ll be used for situations we have with criminals,” Gage said.

    HPD fueled that 2007 controversy even further by suggesting that drones could be used for writing speeding tickets.

    “The aircraft has the capability to have a number of different systems on board. Mostly, for law enforcement, we focus on what we call less lethal systems,” he said, including Tazers that can send a jolt to a criminal on the ground or a gun that fires bean bags known as a “stun baton.”

    He said they are designed to carry weapons for local law enforcement.

    Yeah. Non-lethal. You know, because no one ever dies from police tasers, right?

    According to Amnesty International, between 2001 and 2008, 351 people in the United States died after being shocked by police Tasers.

    Normally, I would conclude this snarky post with some kind of snarky, self-gratifying remark about … well … whatever.
    But after reading what I’ve presented, I can’t. It’s just too sickening.

  29. wr says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: If I were really part of Zombieland, wouldn’t I be in favor of killing as many people as possible? Or have I got The Walking Dead all wrong?

  30. matt bernius says:

    @Andy & @James Joyner:

    People should not worry about drone strikes in America for the same reason they don’t worry about F-16 or B-2 strikes in America. Drones are not some new magical weapon that defy the rules and laws under which other weapon systems operate.

    To play devils advocate here, the fact is that while weaponized drones are not “magic weapons”, comparing them to an F-16 or B-2 misses the point.

    Drones have transformed our capacity to deploy force. And typically, when that happens, rules and process are changed.

    While it’s not the best comparison, think about how the introduction of tazers changes the ways that police deployed force and escalated confrontations.

    Couple that with the fact that the drone program was shrouded in secrecy, and run by the CIA versus the Pentagon, and it’s easy to understand why people have found this disconcerting.

  31. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @wr:

    If I were really part of Zombieland, wouldn’t I be in favor of killing as many people as possible?

    You have much to learn grasshopper.

  32. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: And if you haven’t figured it out, when it comes to @Tsar Nicholas: all comments are sarcasm or idiocy. Take your pick. Either way, no reply is necessary.

  33. rudderpedals says:

    Drones don’t bring anything new to the discussion as Andy pointed out. Drones sexy it up. At some point you have to recognize that it’s the remote aspect that resonates emotionally – but cops today can send remote control robots onto a scene to take action.

    This doesn’t mean the FAA shouldn’t outright continue to ban dumping anything dangerous to people on the ground – taser, minigun ammo, whatever – of out an aircraft.

  34. James in LA says:

    I would be far less concerned with drones absent the horrible powers Congress has granted to the executive, who can turn any citizen into a terrorist by will alone, and such a person is then the target of indefinite detention, at best.

    Also, Andy above claims, “People should not worry about drone strikes in America for the same reason they don’t worry about F-16 or B-2 strikes in America.”

    Police forces do not control any F-16s or B-2’s, but they do control drones. If any weapon systems are used to bypass due process, then they are by definition right out. The danger of that in our hyper-terror era is not small.

  35. al-Ameda says:

    I’m in favor of using Drone strikes – as long as the authorities get a warrant.

  36. Jenos Idanian #13 says:

    What were the consequences to law enforcement after Ruby Ridge?

    After Waco?

    What was the reaction when drone strikes killed not only an American never charged with a crime, but his 16-year-old son?

    The list of things that are “unthinkable” is getting shorter and shorter.

  37. anjin-san says:

    The list of things that are “unthinkable” is getting shorter and shorter.

    A worthwhile comment from you is still on the list…