Politics and Public Opinion, Polls

How Americans learned to stop worrying and love the drones

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Americans seem more and more comfortable with letting robots do their dirty work. Since 2002, Roomba has sold over 6 million iRobot vacuums, many in the US. Apple’s intelligent computer assistant, Siri, has listened to millions ask it all sorts of mundane questions, like whether it is currently raining outside. And one estimate from the New America Foundation pegs the number of drone strikes by the US between 2004 and 2010 to be around 114. In his State of the Union address, President Obama hinted that he would continue to use drones to go after suspected terrorists. Polls show that most Americans don’t have problem with that.

Pew found that 56% support the US conducting drone strikes. The practice received bipartisan support, with Republicans being the most favorable. Women were far less supportive then men, even though a plurality of women still approved. Women are generally less supportive than men about using force in a variety of situations.

That doesn’t mean Americans are willing to write the drone program a blank check. Many in the Pew poll were concerned over whether drones endanger civilian lives, lead to retaliation from extremists, and are conducted legally. Large numbers said they were “very concerned” about these issues.        Top concerns drone strikesAmericans were least concerned about the program damaging America’s reputation. Americans seem more concerned about safety from terrorists attacks than their reputation abroad. And for proponents of the drone program, that might be a blessing in disguise. In a global Pew poll, citizens of 17 out of 20 nations oppose US drone strikes. Only Britain showed a division of opinion, even though more disapproved than approved.

Opposition to drone strikes world

Americans don’t think the war on terror is over, one reason their support for using drones remains high. While there has not been a lot of new data on this subject, opinions after the death of Osama bin Laden should be some indication. Reason–Rupe asked whether the War on Terror was over now that Bin Laden was dead. Ninety-six percent of Americans disagreed.

War on Terror Over

Also, Americans seem generally happy about the state of their civil liberties. They don’t see the drone program, or the continuation of the War on Terror, as a threat. A July Kaiser/Washington Post poll asked if the US government is doing enough to protect civil liberties, and 67% said the government is doing enough.

Civil liberties

The support for drones extends beyond distant battlefields as well. In a June 2012 Monmouth University poll, a majority supported using drones to track down runaway criminals and using them to control illegal immigration at the border. Americans have few qualms about bringing the drones to the homeland.

All those robot apocalypse movies haven’t scared Americans away from the drones. Not even Jamie Foxx in Stealth convinced people to fear the coming robot takeover. Instead, people seem to find the use of drones a convenient solution to difficult problems.

4 thoughts on “How Americans learned to stop worrying and love the drones

  1. short and sweet:

    drones are better than boots-on-the-ground nation-building in countries where terrorists hide.

    should their be rules?

    you bet.

    should we have rules like what we do when we send a seal team in to get someone or the CIA to kidnap and rendition, etc?

    sure.. but why are some folks so up in the air about drones that were seemly unconcerned with seal teams and invasions and nation building?

    we don’t seem to have a consistent view about tactics and policies.

    for some torture is ok but not drones.

    for others drones are okay but not torture.

    most people with a moral conscience find torture troubling and don’t condone it except in the most exceptional circumstances and the PEW polls actually show that church-goers support torture at rates higher than non-church-goers – go figure.

    but killing an enemy who has vowed to kill you or for that matter someone who is wielding a gun and not drop it when told to ( in police confrontations) is not a troublesome to most folks.

  2. I’m not sure they actually used them since I have too much to do other than follow a False Flag story about a “cop killer” but I heard that drones were supposed to be used to catch Dorner. I figure it was all a FAKE because of the coincidence that he was “captured” (like bin laden) right before o’bama’s SOTU and it was also to GET sheeple to LOVE DRONES!

  3. While these toplines are interesting, they do not necessarily tell us much about the *type* of person who holds these beliefs. I suspect that if you controlled for actual knowledge about drone policies (and perhaps education and religiosity), you would see a marked decrease in the support for them. Cognitively, “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” probably lends a great deal of support to this issue, given that there is a robust level of cognitive dissonance between unilateral strikes that are accompanied by collateral civilian damages and the notions of due process and sanctity of non-combatant life that drive the American ethos.

    The simple fact of the matter is that civilians are “awash in ignorance” of politics (Kinder 1998: 785-789). As a result, we can hardly expect them to have truly principled perspectives on this murky issue, where information about actual strikes is largely hidden from the public eye. Indeed, if the study of opinion on “torture” is any indication, once individuals are made aware of the actions that occur during “enhanced” interrogations, they are far more likely to oppose it than support it. I suspect that here, too, the support for drone strikes is largely a function of blissful ignorance.

    cheers, A.

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