While U.S. drone strikes have faced new scrutiny in recent weeks, a majority of the public continues to support the program. Overall, 56% approve of the U.S. conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft to target extremists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia; just 26% say they disapprove.
Opinion is largely unchanged from last July, when 55% approved of the program. Support for drone attacks crosses party lines: 68% of Republicans and 58% of Democrats say they approve of U.S. drone strikes.
There also are stark gender differences in opinions about the use of drones: Men approve of drone strikes by more than three-to-one (68% to 21%). Among women, 44% approve, while 31% disapprove.
The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 7-10 among 1,004 adults, finds that while drone strikes draw continued support, there is widespread concern that the attacks endanger innocent civilians.
Overall, 53% say they are very concerned about whether drone strikes put the lives of civilians in danger. Even among those who approve of the program, 42% say they are very concerned the attacks risk lives of innocent civilians.
Other possible consequences from drone attacks spur less public concern: 32% are very concerned they could lead to retaliation from extremist groups, 31% are very concerned the attacks are being conducted legally and 26% worry they could damage America’s reputation around the world.
Democrats, Independents More Concerned about Civilian Casualties
Democrats are much more likely than Republicans to express concern over whether drone attacks endanger civilian lives. Nearly two-thirds (65%) of Democrats and 53% of independents say they are very concerned about whether U.S. drone strikes endanger the lives of innocent civilians, compared with just 37% of Republicans.
The partisan gaps are smaller in concerns over other possible consequences from drone attacks. For each, fewer than half of Democrats – and even smaller percentages of Republicans –express a great deal of concern.
Among those who approve of U.S. drone strikes, 42% say they are very concerned about whether the attacks endanger the lives of innocent civilians. No more than a quarter of drone supporters say they are very concerned about the three other possible consequences tested.
Among those who disapprove of U.S. drone attacks, nearly eight-in-ten (79%) are very concerned about possible civilians casualties; About half say they are very concerned over whether the attacks are being conducted legally (52%), whether they could lead to retaliation from extremist groups (52%), and whether they could damage America’s reputation around the world (49%).
Gender Gap over Drone Strikes
Women are much less supportive of U.S. drone strikes than are men and they express far greater concern over the possibility of civilian casualties. Overall, 44% of women approve of the U.S. conducting missile strikes from pilotless aircraft, 31% disapprove while 25% offer no opinion. By contrast, men support drone strikes by more than three-to-one (68%-21%).
Six-in-ten women (60%) say they are very concerned about whether drone strikes endanger the lives of innocent civilians compared with 46% of men. Less than half of women say they are very concerned about other possible consequences, though they offer somewhat more concern on these issues than do men.