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. Americans 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.
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.
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.
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.