After an uproar this week when Attorney General Eric Holder wrote that technically speaking, the president might have the authority to kill an American citizen on U.S. soil using a drone in an "extraordinary circumstance," a new HuffPost/YouGov poll finds that Americans are deeply uncomfortable with the idea of drone strikes in the U.S., with half saying that ordering one would be unjustified even if it would prevent a terrorist attack.
Only 33 percent of respondents to the new survey believe there should be circumstances in which it is legal for the president to order a drone strike against an American citizen within the U.S., while 47 percent said it should be legal under no circumstances. Majorities of both Republicans and independents said that there were no circumstances under which ordering a drone strike against an American citizen on American soil should be legal, but Democrats were more likely to say that it should be legal under extraordinary circumstances, 43 percent to 32 percent.
Asked specifically about using drones to prevent a terrorist attack, 50 percent of respondents said there would be no legal justification for doing so if it means killing citizens within the United States, while 20 percent said it should be legal.
After the release of his original memo saying that the president might theoretically have the authority to order a drone strike inside of the U.S., Holder issued a second statement clarifying that such a strike could only be used against a citizen who was engaged in combat.
As has been the case with previous surveys on the use of drones, most respondents to the new survey said they approved of using drones to kill high-level terrorist suspects overseas, by a 53 percent to 22 percent margin. And a 42 percent to 30 percent plurality said they approved of using them even on American citizens if they are suspected of terrorism.
Other surveys have shown that Americans are much more uncomfortable with the possibility that innocent civilians might be killed by the drone program overseas than with the possibility that the targets are U.S. citizens. A previous HuffPost/YouGov poll conducted in February found that a 43 percent to 27 percent plurality of Americans opposed drone strikes even on high-level targets overseas if using them might killl civilians.
The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Mar. 6-7 among 1,000 U.S. 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 include 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.