A new Reason-Rupe poll finds that a majority of Americans think President Obama's targeted killing program, which famously allowed the CIA to assassinate an American-born Muslim cleric living in Yemen as well has his American-born teenage son, to be unconstitutional.
When asked if they thought it was "constitutional or unconstitutional for the president of the United States to order the killing of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists," 57 percent of respondents said they thought it was unconstitutional, including 65 percent of Republicans, 64 percent of independents, and 44 percent of Democrats.
Thirty-one percent of respondents said it was constitutional for the president to kill Americans suspected of being terrorists, including 40 percent of Democrats, 27 percent of Republicans, and 28 percent of independents.
As evidenced by several different questions, Americans have strong negative feelings about drones. One question asked, When it comes to the use of drones, how concerned are you that the government may abuse its power…a lot, some, not too much, or not at all? In response, 32 percent of respondents said "a lot," 27 percent said "some," 19 percent said "not too much," and only 17 percent said "not at all."
Forty percent of respondents, including 34 percent of Democrats, 36 percent of Republicans, and 47 percent of independents, said they were very worried that local police would use drones to invade their privacy; fully 60 percet said they were worried to some degree or another. Only 21 percent of respondents said they were "not at all" worried about police using drones to invade their privacy.
Respondents were evenly divided over this question: If a drone flew over your house and was recording you and your property without your permission, do you think should have the right to destroy it, or not? Forty-seven percent said yes, 47 percent said no, 4 percent didn't answer, and one percent said, "It depends."
What Reason-Rupe found about Americans' sentiments towards targeted killing contradicts a recent WSJ/NBC poll, which found that "[a] solid majority, 64%, favored the U.S. policy of targeted assassinations of suspected terrorists by the use of drones in countries such as Yemen and Pakistan."
There's a pretty simple explanation for the conflicting responses, and you can find it in the questions. Reason-Rupe asked:
Do you think it is constitutional or unconstitutional for the president of the United States to order the killing of American citizens who are suspected of being terrorists?
While NBC/WSJ asked:
As you know, the United States has been targeting and killing suspected members of Al Qaeda and other terrorists in countries such as Pakistan, Yemen, and other countries. Many of these killings have been conducted using unmanned aircraft that are controlled remotely, also known as drones. Do you favor or oppose the use of unmanned aircraft, also known as drones, to kill suspected members of Al Qaeda and other terrorists? If you don't know enough to have an opinion on this issue please just say so.
The NBC/WSJ poll question doesn't distinguish between foreign-born terrorists and Americans suspected of being terrorists. That distinction, as Reason-Rupe found, matters.