More Americans support the government's use of armed drones to kill suspected terrorists overseas than oppose it, even if those targeted are American citizens, according to a Rasmussen Reports poll released Tuesday.
On Thursday, May 23, the Obama administration formally admitted to killing four American citizens overseas in drone strikes, including Anwar al-Awlaki, who was specifically targeted in Yemen in 2011.
In his first extensive speech about the United States' drone program, President Obama said that citizenship shouldn't be used to protect Americans abroad who are plotting against the country.
"When a U.S. citizen goes abroad to wage war against America – and is actively plotting to kill U.S. citizens; and when neither the United States, nor our partners are in a position to capture him before he carries out a plot – his citizenship should no more serve as a shield than a sniper shooting down on an innocent crowd should be protected from a SWAT team," Obama said.
Americans seem to agree with him: According to the Rasmussen poll, which surveyed 1,000 likely voters May 23-24, 42 percent favor the government use of drones to kill U.S. citizens abroad as long as they "pose a terroristic threat." About a third of Americans opposed the use of a drone in that circumstance, 27 percent said they were undecided.
In a similar poll taken in March, just 36 percent of voters approved of government use to kill suspected American terrorists abroad.
While Obama said that drones can be useful overseas, he said that using armed drones at home is more problematic, and those polled agreed: Just over a third of Americans said they support drone use to stop terrorists in the United States; 43 percent oppose their use in the United States.
"For the record, I do not believe it would be constitutional for the government to target and kill any U.S. citizen – with a drone, or a shotgun – without due process. Nor should any president deploy armed drones over U.S. soil," Obama said.
Overall, Americans still overwhelmingly support the overseas drone program. Obama suggested that the United States would begin to use drone strikes less often as it winds down the war on terror.
He also said that drone strikes and "targeted killings" are the best of several tough options to fight terrorists in foreign countries. On that, Americans seem to agree with the President: 69 percent of respondents favor American drone strikes overseas; just 14 percent oppose them. Of those who support strikes, just 9 percent said the U.S. should decrease the frequency of them.
Scott Rasmussen, founder of Rasmussen Reports, says that drone use, especially in the United States, is likely to be a polarizing issue over the next decade, and that many voters haven't decided where they stand on the issue yet.
"This is a new area for people to come to grips with," he says. "We see they like the idea of using drones against enemies overseas because we want to use whatever resources we have. But we see concerns about using drones at any level domestically because people are generally uncomfortable with the government taking a military-style action on U.S. soil."
Though nearly three quarters of those polled said they have been following the use of drones "somewhat closely" or "very closely" in recent months, Rasmussen says that they remain of little concern to most Americans.
"The public believes there should be checks and balances on this sort of thing and they do want some review procedures [before a strike is done], but, bluntly, foreign policy matters are not big on the radar screen right now," he says.
"The number of people who say national security is their top concern is just 6 percent," Rasmussen says. "To assume people paid attention to the president's speech and that they care more about this than the economy or some of the recent administration controversies is assuming a bit much."