Thanks to a Washington Post/ABC poll from last February, we already knew that 83% of Americans support the use of drones against suspected terrorists overseas. This fact has been used to support the notion that U.S. drone strikes abroad will not come under domestic scrutiny because there is little demand for such scrutiny among the American public. Supposedly, at least 83% of Americans have accepted the use of unmanned drones as a viable and acceptable counterterrorism tool—and for a country so tired of the “decade of war” Obama repeatedly assures us is ending, this is hardly surprising. But the reality is not that simple.
The new poll—taken after the publication of the DOJ white paper on targeted killings—asks more specific questions about the use of drones to kill individuals, revealing nuances of opinion that say as much about the consequences of transparency as they do about American ethical leanings.
The poll found that 56% of respondents support the use of drones to target “high-level terrorist leaders who may be involved in planning attacks.” Fair enough. However, only 13% indicated support for killing “anyone suspected of being associated with a terrorist group.” And, in a separate question, only 27% indicated that they would favor the use of drones “if there is a risk of killing innocent people.”