While U.S. drone strikes have faced new scrutiny in recent weeks, a majority of the public continues to support the program. Overall, 56% approve of the U.S. conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; just 26% say they disapprove.
Opinion is largely unchanged from last July, when 55% approved of the program. Support for drone attacks crosses party lines: 68% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats say they approve of U.S. drone strikes.
There also are stark gender differences in opinions about the use of drones: Men approve of drone strikes by more than three-to-one (68% to 21%). Among women, 44% approve, while 31% disapprove.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 7-10 among 1,004 adults, finds that while drone strikes draw continued support, there is widespread concern that the attacks endanger innocent civilians.
Overall, 53% say they are very concerned about whether drone strikes put the lives of civilians in danger. Even among those who approve of the program, 42% say they are very concerned the attacks risk lives of innocent civilians.
Other possible consequences from drone attacks spur less public concern: 32% are very concerned they could lead to retaliation from extremist groups, 31% are very concerned the attacks are being conducted legally and 26% worry they could damage America’s reputation around the world.
Democrats, Independents More Concerned about Civilian Casualties
Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to express concern over whether drone attacks endanger civilian lives. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Democrats and 53% ofindependents say they are very concerned about whether U.S. drone strikes endanger the lives of innocent civilians, compared with just 37% of Republicans.
The partisan gaps are smaller in concerns over other possible consequences from drone attacks. For each, fewer than half of Democrats – and even smaller percentages of Republicans –express a great deal of concern.
Among those who approve of U.S. drone strikes, 42% say they are very concerned about whether the attacks endanger the lives of innocent civilians. No more than a quarter of drone supporters say they are very concerned about the three other possible consequences tested.
Gender Gap over Drone Strikes
Women are much less supportive of U.S. drone strikes than are men and they express far greater concern over the possibility of civilian casualties. Overall, 44% of women approve of the U.S. conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft, 31% disapprove while 25% offer no opinion. By contrast, men support drone strikes by more than three-to-one (68%-21%).
Six-in-ten women (60%) say they are very concerned about whether drone strikes endanger the lives of innocent civilians compared with 46% of men. Less than half of women say they are very concerned about other possible consequences, though they offer somewhat more concern on these issues than do men.
Among those who disapprove of U.S. drone attacks, nearly eight-in-ten (79%) are very concerned about possible civilians casualties; About half say they are very concerned over whether the attacks are being conducted legally (52%), whether they could lead to retaliation from extremist groups (52%), and whether they could damage America’s reputation around the world (49%).
ABOUT THE SURVEY
The analysis in this report is based on telephone interviews conducted February 7-10, 2013, among a national sample of 1,004 adults 18 years of age or older living in the continental United States (500 respondents were interviewed on a landline telephone, and 504 were interviewed on a cell phone, including 254 who had no landline telephone). The survey was conducted by interviewers at Princeton Data Source under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. A combination of landline and cell phone random digit dial samples were used; both samples were provided by Survey Sampling International. Interviews were conducted in English. Respondents in the landline sample were selected by randomly asking for the youngest adult male or female who is now at home. Interviews in the cell sample were conducted with the person who answered the phone, if that person was an adult 18 years of age or older. For detailed information about our survey methodology, see: http://people-press.org/methodology/.
The combined landline and cell phone sample are weighted using an iterative technique that matches gender, age, education, race, Hispanic origin and region to parameters from the 2011 Census Bureau’s American Community Survey and population density to parameters from the Decennial Census. The sample also is weighted to match current patterns of telephone status, based on extrapolations from the 2012 National Health Interview Survey. The weighting procedure also accounts for the fact that respondents with both landline and cell phones have a greater probability of being included in the combined sample and adjusts for household size among respondents with a landline phone. Sampling errors and statistical tests of significance take into account the effect of weighting. The following table shows the unweighted sample sizes and the error attributable to sampling that would be expected at the 95% level of confidence for different groups in the survey:
Is this (1004) a large enough sample size:
Sample sizes and sampling errors for other subgroups are available upon request.
In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
U.S. Use of Drones, Under New Scrutiny, Has Been Widely Opposed Abroad
The nomination of John Brennan to head the Central Intelligence Agency is expected to renew focus on the U.S. use of drones against suspected militants at his Senate confirmation hearing on February 7. A majority (62%) of the U.S. public approves of drone strikes, but outside of the United States, there is considerable opposition among most nations surveyed by the Pew Research Center.