In the month that has passed since Kentucky Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s historic filibuster over drone strikes on American soil, polling has shown a dramatic shift in U.S. public opinion of the issue.
Overall, polling on drone strikes remains somewhat scarce, but a review and comparison of polls before and after the filibuster suggests that it had a profound effect.
The most obvious reflection of the change comes in looking at a released two days before the filibuster and comparing it to a Gallup poll conducted in late March, three weeks after the filibuster took place.
In a Fox News poll released four days before the filibuster, pollsters used a set of four questions to ask whether respondents approved of using drones for the following:
- Killing a suspected terrorist in a foreign country.
- Killing suspected terrorist in a foreign country if the suspect is a U.S. citizen.
- Killing a suspected foreign terrorist on U.S. soil.
- Killing a suspected terrorist who is a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil.
The only one of those four topics that did not earn a majority support was killing a U.S. citizen on U.S. soil. Using drones to kill an American citizen who is a suspected terrorist overseas garnered 60 per cent approval.
Results were consistent with a February 2012 Washington Post poll, which found that about eight in 10 Americans approved of the administration’s use of drones.
The results of a Gallup poll released in late March, after Paul’s filibuster, show a clear shift. That poll only found that 41 per cent of respondents favour drone strikes abroad on American citizens:
GallupGallup warns that its methodology is a bit different from Fox News. Fox asked all of its questions to all respondents, while Gallup only asked half its sample two questions each. So, a person who was asked about “launching airstrikes in other countries against suspected terrorists” was not subsequently asked about the caveat of that target being an American citizen.
But Paul’s filibuster may have contributed to the sizeable loss of support across party and gender lines. Support for targeting American citizens suspected of being terrorists abroad dropped 13 points among Republicans, 17 points among Democrats, and a whopping 23 points among Independents.
If those swings are any indication, Paul appears to have captured the attention of voters on what is shaping up to be an important foreign policy issue. But he has not yet unified voters in his own party, who continue to show the highest levels of support for Obama administration’s drone program.
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