Home > drones, human rights, public opinion, Research & Politics, social and cultural issues > Flying under the radar: A study of public attitudes towards unmanned aerial vehicles (drones)

Flying under the radar: A study of public attitudes towards unmanned aerial vehicles (drones)

June 4, 2014

Flying under the radar: A study of public attitudes towards unmanned aerial vehicles
Source: Research & Politics

Unmanned aerial vehicles, also known as drones, have become a central feature of American foreign policy, with over 400 strikes in Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen in the last decade. Despite criticisms that have arisen about ethics and legality of this policy, polls have registered high levels of public support for drone strikes. This article shows that the standard formulation of poll questions takes as a given the government’s controversial claims about combatant status and source of legal authorization. I conduct a survey experiment that evaluates how varying the terms of the debate –in particular whether the strikes are compatible with international humanitarian law (IHL) and have legal authorization – affects public support for the drone policy. Treatments that incorporated contested assumptions about IHL meaningfully decreased public support while the public was less moved by questions about domestic or international legal authorization.

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