According to the new national survey, Americans believe that only high-level suspects who may be involved in planning attacks should be targeted -- and not if there's a risk that innocent people may also be killed.
According to the new Huffpost/YouGov poll, 56 percent of Americans say that the drone program should be used to target and kill high-level terrorists, while only 13 percent say that anyone suspected of being associated with a terrorist group should be targeted. Another 13 percent said that nobody should be killed using the drones program. A majority of Americans across most demographic and partisan groups agreed that the program should be used for high-level targets.
Only 27 percent of respondents said they were in favor of using the program if there was a possibility of killing innocent people, while 43 percent said they were opposed. Republicans in the survey were evenly divided on whether to use drone strikes if there was a risk of killing innocents, but both Democrats and independents were more likely to oppose than favor such strikes.
While media reports have largely asserted that the program is limited to senior-level targets, a New America Foundation report found that only 2 percent of those killed met that definition. One memo justifying the program repeatedly refers to a "member" of a terrorist group, without qualifying the seniority of that member.
A previous HuffPost/YouGov poll found that 54 percent of Americans approve of using drones to kill high-level terrorism suspects, with 18 percent saying that they disapprove. That support dropped below 50 percent if the suspects being targeted were American citizens, although more approved than disapproved even under that circumstance, 43 percent to 27 percent. As with the new poll, though, support dropped even further if civilians might also be killed, with 29 percent saying they approved and 42 percent saying they disapproved.
A poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center also found that endangering civilians is the aspect of the drones program that concerns civilians the most. Fifty-three percent of respondents to that survey said they were very concerned about drones endangering civilian lives. Only 32 percent said they were very concerned that drone strikes could lead to retaliation by extremists, 31 percent said they were very concerned about whether the program is conducted legally, and 26 percent said they were very concerned that drones could damage America's reputation.
The relative lack of concern in Pew's survey about whether the drone program is conducted legally perhaps helps to explain another aspect of public opinion: Although the earlier HuffPost/YouGov survey found that more Americans approve than disapprove of killing high-level terrorism suspects who are American citizens, another recent poll, this one conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University, found that by a 48 percent to 24 percent margin most respondents said that doing so was illegal. In the debate over drones, moral concerns about killing innocents seem to outweigh legal concerns about killing Americans.
The new HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Feb. 11-12 among 1,000 U.S. adults. The poll used a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.