Poll: American public still supports drone attacks

A new poll reveals ongoing high levels of support for U.S. drone strikes against extremists in the Middle East and South Asia.

Support for drone strikes is at 58 percent, with opposition at 35 percent.  This remains essentially unchanged from polling data in early 2013.  The highest levels of support are among Republicans, where 74 percent are in favor and just 22 percent oppose.

When asked about the polling results, Ben Lerner, vice president for government relations at the Center for Security Policy, offered the following thoughts:

It's not all that surprising that a solid majority of Americans, across party lines, support the use of drones to target terrorists overseas.  I don't know exactly how the questions were put to the respondents, but when one considers the alternatives to drone strikes -- towards one end of the spectrum, sending in manned aircraft or special operations forces to do the job, which puts more civilians on the ground at risk as well as our warfighters, and towards the other end of the spectrum, doing nothing -- it makes sense that most Americans will favor the drone option in that it enables us to defend ourselves while minimizing risk for US forces and substantially reducing it for non-combatants. 

That said, there is a risk that these poll results will send a message that drone strikes by themselves are sufficient to address the problem of terrorist networks, which is not the case.  While there will be plenty of circumstances where we want to use drones to take out bad guys, it is critical that we maintain the ability to capture and interrogate them for intelligence purposes, which has gotten a lot harder since President Obama has both eliminated Guantanamo Bay as a detention option and taken enhanced interrogation off the table -- both extremely unwise choices.  To the extent that drone strikes become a wholesale substitute for capture and interrogation, rather than one tool (albeit a very important one) in the toolkit, that is problematic.

The Pew Research Center poll also queried respondents on their views of the Afghanistan war.  Pessimism runs high surrounding the conflict, with 56 percent saying “the United States has mostly failed in achieving its goals in Afghanistan” versus 36 percent believing that the goals have been met.  Only 29 percent believe that the nation will be stable after U.S. forces leave, down from 38 percent in 2011.

Republicans take the dimmest view of the situation in Afghanistan.  Just 30 percent of GOP supporters feel that the U.S. has succeeded in achieving its goals in Afghanistan compared to 35 percent among independents and 43 percent for Democrats.  Up until the last year, Republicans were generally the most optimistic over the efforts in this nation.  In addition, Republicans are the most skeptical (74 percent) in believing that “it is either very or somewhat unlikely that the Afghan government will be stable after the withdrawal of U.S. troops,” versus 69 percent for independents and 62 percent for Democrats.