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Drone Poll Finds Support For Strikes, With Limits

02/08/2013 01:35 pm ET | Updated Feb 08, 2013

A majority of Americans support using drones to kill high-level terrorism suspects overseas, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. But support drops when those suspects are American citizens, and more disapprove than approve if innocent civilians may also be killed.

According to the new survey, 54 percent of Americans approve of using drones to kill high-level terrorism suspects, while 18 percent disapprove and 28 percent are undecided. Support for drone strikes has changed little since a previous HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in early January, when 59 percent of respondents said they approved of using drone strikes and 18 percent said they disapproved.

But support for drone strikes in the new HuffPost/YouGov survey dropped to 43 percent if the terrorism suspects are U.S. citizens, with 27 percent disapproving and 31 percent saying they're not sure. If innocent civilians may also be killed in the process of targeting terrorism suspects, only 29 percent approve of using them and 42 percent disapprove.

Republicans and Democrats were equally likely to approve of using drone strikes more generally, at 59 percent and 57 percent respectively. Independents were less likely to approve, at only 48 percent. But Democrats were more likely than either Republicans or independents to support drone strikes against American citizens. Forty-eight percent of Democrats, 42 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of independents said they approved of using drone strikes in that case.

Democrats were more likely to balk at the idea of killing innocent bystanders: Only 27 percent of Democrats and 24 percent of independents said they would support using drone strikes if civilians might also be killed -- Republicans were evenly divided at 39 percent approving and 39 percent disapproving of drone strikes with the possibility of killing innocent bystanders.

Adding an additional wrinkle to public opinion on using drone strikes against American citizens, a Fairleigh Dickinson survey of registered voters released Thursday found that, by a 48 percent to 24 percent margin, respondents thought that such strikes were illegal.

The HuffPost/YouGov survey also found some support for the Obama administration's argument that not only the president but also other high level officials may order such strikes. Forty-one percent of respondents said that either the president or top military and CIA officials should be permitted to order strikes, while 22 percent said that only the president should be permitted to make the call. Another 19 percent said that nobody should be allowed to make that decision.

But the survey also found that Americans are likely to support efforts by some members of Congress to take on more oversight of the drones program. Forty-six percent of respondents said that both the president and Congress should be responsible for setting the rules for the military or the CIA to use drone strikes against suspected terrorists who are U.S. citizens. While 19 percent said the president should make the rules and 16 percent said Congress should.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Feb. 6-7 among 1,000 American adults. The poll used a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered included age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the release date of a survey done by ABC and the Washington Post. The reference has been removed.

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