WASHINGTON – Most Americans support using drones to target and kill members of terrorist groups overseas, and a large majority think it's acceptable to target American citizens if they are members of terrorist organizations, according to a new Associated Press-GfK poll.
But fewer think such strikes are acceptable if an innocent American might be killed.
The poll was conducted in the days after President Barack Obama publicly apologized for a CIA drone strike in Pakistan that inadvertently killed American hostage Warren Weinstein and Italian hostage Giovanni Lo Porto. The strike also killed Ahmed Farouq, an American citizen who was an al-Qaida planning leader. Another strike killed Adam Gadhani, an American citizen who joined al-Qaida and became Osama Bin Laden's spokesman.
Here are five things to know about Americans' opinions on drone strikes:
FEW OPPOSE DRONE STRIKES
Six in 10 Americans favor using drones to target and kill people belonging to terrorist groups like al-Qaida, while only 13 percent are opposed, according to the new AP-GfK poll. Another 24 percent say they don't favor or oppose those strikes.
The drone program began under President George W. Bush and expanded dramatically under Obama. Since the first operation in 2002, there have been 396 drone strikes in Pakistan and 126 in Yemen, according to the New America Foundation, which tracks the strikes using media reports. The CIA has conducted all the strikes in Pakistan and most strikes in Yemen, though the military also conducts drone strikes in Yemen.
In the new survey, support for using drones crosses party lines. Six in 10 Democrats and 7 in 10 Republicans favor using drones to target terrorist groups. Independents are more ambivalent, with 45 percent in favor and 12 percent opposed, but 37 percent are neutral on the issue.
OK WITH DRONES AGAINST US CITIZENS
Nearly three-quarters of Americans say that it's acceptable for the U.S. to target and kill an American citizen if that person is a member of a terrorist organization overseas. Just a quarter either oppose using drones to target terrorists altogether or think it's unacceptable to use them against an American citizen.
Almost all Americans who are generally in favor of using drones to target terrorists overseas think it's acceptable to target a terrorist who is an American citizen, as do two-thirds of those who neither favor nor oppose using drones to target terrorists generally.
Overall, 8 in 10 Republicans, 7 in 10 Democrats and 6 in 10 independents say it's acceptable for the United States to use a drone strike against a U.S. citizen who is a member of a terrorist group.
LESS IF INNOCENT AMERICANS COULD BE KILLED
Fewer Americans — 47 percent — think it's acceptable to use drones to target terrorists overseas if innocent Americans might be killed in the process, while 49 percent either oppose drone strikes altogether or think it's unacceptable to use them if an innocent American might be killed.
A majority of Republicans, but only 44 percent of Democrats or independents, call it acceptable to use a drone strike if it might kill an innocent American.
The poll did not include questions about foreign civilian casualties or about public confidence in the government's assertion that the vast majority of those killed in drone strikes are terrorists. Independent groups have estimated that at least hundreds, and possibly thousands, of noncombatants have been killed in the operations, a count the U.S. government disputes.
YOUNGEST AMERICANS LESS ENTHUSIASTIC
Just 45 percent of Americans under 30 favor the United States using drone strikes to target terrorist groups overseas, compared with at least 6 in 10 Americans in older age groups.
This youngest group of American adults is also the least likely to say it's acceptable to target an American citizen who has joined a terrorist organization, though majorities in all age groups say that is acceptable.
Just 36 percent of Americans under 30 think it's acceptable to use a drone strike if it might kill an innocent American, while 56 percent of those over age 65 think it's acceptable.
OBAMA RATING ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS INCHES UP
The new poll finds most Americans — 57 percent — disapprove of how President Barack Obama is handling the U.S. role in world affairs, while only 42 percent approve. Still, the percentage who approve is up slightly since only 38 percent said they approved of how Obama is handling the issue in another AP-GfK poll conducted in December.
Sixty percent of Americans now call the U.S. role in world affairs an extremely important issue to them, up from 52 percent in the December poll.
The AP-GfK Poll of 1,077 adults was conducted online April 23-27, using a sample drawn from GfK's probability-based KnowledgePanel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.
Respondents were first selected randomly using phone or mail survey methods and later interviewed online. People selected for KnowledgePanel who didn't otherwise have access to the Internet were provided access at no cost to them.
AP-GfK Poll: http://www.ap-gfkpoll.com