January 26, 2017

Americans divided in views of use of torture in U.S. anti-terror efforts

As Donald Trump’s administration reviews U.S. policies on the detainment and interrogation of terrorism suspects, the public is divided over whether it is ever acceptable for the country to use torture in anti-terror efforts.

Overall, 48% say there are some circumstances under which the use of torture is acceptable in U.S. anti-terrorism efforts; about as many (49%) say there are no circumstances under which the use of torture is acceptable.

Trump has said he personally believes torture works, but that he will confer with his Cabinet before considering any changes to U.S. policy. The use of torture by the military and all other government agencies is currently banned under U.S. law.

The national survey of 4,265 adults conducted just before the presidential election (Oct. 25-Nov. 8) on Pew Research Center’s nationally representative American Trends Panel finds wide demographic and political differences in views of torture.

About seven-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (71%) say there are some circumstances where it is acceptable for the U.S. to use torture. By contrast, 67% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say there are no circumstances under which this is acceptable. Within both parties there are differences in views by ideology: Conservative Republicans are 18 percentage points more likely than moderate and liberal Republicans to say there are circumstances where it is acceptable for the U.S. to use torture in anti-terrorism efforts (79% vs. 61%); among Democrats, liberals are 11 points more likely than moderates and conservatives to say there are no circumstances where the U.S. use of torture is acceptable (74% vs. 63%).

Men (53%) are somewhat more likely to say there are than that there are not (44%) circumstances under which it is acceptable for the U.S. to use torture. The balance of opinion among women is the reverse: 53% say there are no circumstances where it is acceptable for the U.S. to use torture, while 44% say there are some.

Those with a postgraduate degree are particularly likely to oppose the U.S. use of torture in anti-terrorism efforts: Six-in-ten postgraduates say there are no circumstances where it’s acceptable for the U.S. to use torture. Those with lower levels of education are about evenly split in their views on this question.

Across age groups, 58% of adults younger than 30 do not think there are circumstances where it’s acceptable for the government to use torture. Those ages 30-49 and 50-64 are roughly divided in their views, and most of those 65 and older (54%) say there are some circumstances where the use of torture is acceptable.

Note: See full topline results and methodology (PDF).

 

Topics: Terrorism, U.S. Political Parties, Political Attitudes and Values, Foreign Affairs and Policy, Political Issue Priorities, Political Polarization

  1. Photo of Alec Tyson

    is a senior researcher focusing on U.S. politics and policy at Pew Research Center.