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Voters Are Gung-Ho for Use of Drones But Not Over the United States

Monday, February 13, 2012

Voters strongly approve of President Obama's decision to use unmanned drones to go after terrorists, but they're much less excited about the use of such aircraft for surveillance on the home front.

The president recently acknowledged that the United States has a secret drone program for killing al-Qaeda and Taliban terrorists, and the latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just nine percent (9%) of Likely U.S. Voters oppose such a program.  Seventy-six percent (76%) approve of the use of the unmanned aircraft to kill terrorists. Fifteen percent (15%) are not sure. (To see survey question wording, click here.) 

The program has already caused increased diplomatic tensions with Pakistan over the unintended deaths of civilians from the drone strikes. Still, a plurality (49%) of voters thinks using the drones to kill terrorists is more important than avoiding diplomatic problems with countries like Pakistan. Thirty-three percent (33%) say it's more important to avoid diplomatic problems. Eighteen percent (18%) are undecided.

Fifty percent (50%) say the president as commander in chief has the authority to use drones against terrorists in other countries without getting Congress' okay. Thirty-seven percent (37%) feel the president should get congressional approval before such drones are deployed. Thirteen percent (13%) aren't sure.

Congress passed legislation last week that will make it easier for U.S. police agencies to use drones for surveillance in this country, but 52% of voters are opposed. Only 30% favor the use of unmanned drones for domestic surveillance. Seventeen percent (17%) are undecided.

The United States has used the drones to go after terrorists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Voters' perceptions that the situation in Iraq will get better have fallen to an all-time low. There's similar pessimism about Afghanistan, but voters are still relatively confident that the United States and its allies are winning the war on terror. 

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The survey of 1,000 Likely Voters was conducted on February 10-11, 2012 by Rasmussen Reports. The margin of sampling error is +/- 3 percentage points with a 95% level of confidence. Field work for all Rasmussen Reports surveys is conducted by Pulse Opinion Research, LLC. See methodology.

Sixty-eight percent (68%) of voters say they have followed recent news reports about the United States' use of unmanned drone aircraft, with 31% who have been following Very Closely.

Most voters of any political persuasion are supportive of the use of drones to kill terrorists, but Republicans (88%) are even more enthusiastic than Democrats (65%) and voters not affiliated with either party (74%). A plurality (45%) of Democrats thinks avoiding diplomatic problems with countries like Pakistan is more important than using drones to kill terrorists, but 66% of GOP voters and 45% of unaffiliateds disagree.

There's general agreement among the groups, however, that the president can go it alone with drones without seeking Congress' approval. Similarly, all three generally are opposed to the use of drones domestically, but Republicans (45%) are less strongly opposed than Democrats (53%) and unaffiliated voters (59%).

Female voters are much more concerned about the diplomatic fallout than men are and are almost evenly divided over whether the president needs Congress' approval before he can use drones against terrorists. Sixty percent (60%) of male voters say the president already has the authority as commander in chief to use drones against terrorists in other countries.

Evangelical Christians and Catholics are less opposed to the use of drones domestically than are other Protestants and voters of other faiths.

Sixty-one percent (61%) of the Political Class favor use of drones for domestic surveillance, but 53% of Mainstream voters are opposed.

Voters strongly favor the Obama administration's plan to wrap up U.S. combat action in Afghanistan by the middle of next year, and most think there's a good chance the plan will succeed as proposed. But just 17% feel it's possible negotiations with the Taliban could bring the war in Afghanistan to a satisfactory conclusion.

Additional information from this survey and a full demographic breakdown are available to Platinum Members only. 

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