Most Americans support drone attacks on high-level terrorist suspects, but oppose them if innocent civilians may be killed
The government's program of launching drone attacks on terrorist suspects and terrorist camps has come under increased scrutiny in the past week after allegations were made in an Amnesty International report that the US government may attack first responders helping people injured in drone strikes. Many of these strikes target Al-Qaeda/Taliban targets in Pakistan. The Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently visited President Obama and asked the US government to end the program of drone strikes.
The latest research from YouGov shows that, on the whole, Americans largely support the program of drone strikes. 60% say that they approve of drone strikes on high-level terror suspects, while only 18% disapprove. Launching attacks overseas on high-level suspects that have American citizenship is a little more controversial with 28% opposing the practice, though 47% still support it. However, attacks that risk killing civilians are opposed by most of the public. 52% of Americans disapprove of attacks which may kill civilians, while only 25% approve.
Given that civilians may theoretically die in any drone strike this underlines the complexity of public opinion about this issue.
When asked whether they support drone strikes that may kill civilians, Republicans are the only group of people who do not tend to disapprove of these attacks, with 39% approving of them and 37% disapproving. Democrats and Independents tend to have similar opinions on this issue, with 58% of Democrats and 56% of Independents disapproving of strikes that may kill civilians.
In general, Republicans tend to be more approving of the drone strike program. Independents show the lowest levels of support for drone strikes, but much of this is due to Independents tending being unsure of their opinions on this particular subject, as their levels of opposition to the drone program are similar to that of Democrats.
The partisan differences in support for drone attacks may, in large part, be accounted for by fundamental differences over what would do the most to make America safe from the threat of terrorism. Just under three-fifths of Democrats (59%) tend to think that we will be safest if we stay out of the affairs of other countries, while similar numbers of Republicans (61%) think that the US would be safer if we confront terrorists and their supporters abroad.
The report alleges that after a first round of missiles are launched at a suspected terrorist, a second round is launched a short time after, often killing people who rushed to the scene of the first attack. Neither the CIA nor other government agencies that launch drone strikes have commented on the report, but President Obama has recently re-iterated that they always try to verify with 'near certainty' that civilians will not be killed any drone strikes.
Full poll results can be found here.