With 30,000 drone aircraft expected to patrol the nation's skies within a decade, the Monmouth University Poll finds the American public supports many applications of this technology. Routine policing, though, is not among them.
A majority of Americans have heard either a great deal (27%) or some (29%) news about the use of unmanned surveillance drones by the U.S. Military. Another 22% have heard only a little and 22% have heard nothing at all. The Department of Homeland Security has also been developing drones to patrol the nation's borders and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been revising rules to widen the use of drones for other domestic purposes.
The poll asked a national sample about four potential uses of unmanned drones by U.S. law enforcement. An overwhelming majority of Americans support the idea of using drones to help with search and rescue missions (80%). Two-thirds of the public also support using drones to track down runaway criminals (67%) and control illegal immigration on the nation's border (64%).
One area where Americans say that drones should not be used, though, is to issue speeding tickets. Only 23% support using drones for this routine police activity while a large majority of 67% oppose the idea.
"Americans clearly support using drone technology in special circumstances, but they are a bit leery of more routine use by local law enforcement agencies," said Patrick Murray, director of the New Jersey-based Monmouth University Polling Institute.
Despite widespread support for certain domestic applications of drone technology, the potential for more routine use could raise privacy issues. Nearly 2-in-3 Americans express at least some concern in this area. Specifically, 42% of Americans would be very concerned and 22% would be somewhat concerned about their own privacy if U.S. law enforcement started using unmanned drones with high tech surveillance cameras. Another 16% would be just a little concerned and 15% would not be concerned at all. Black (54%) and Hispanic (50%) residents are somewhat more likely than white (39%) and Asian (38%) residents to say they would be very concerned about privacy issues related to domestic drone use.
The poll found that pre-existing knowledge about military drones did not substantially affect support for domestic drone uses or potential concern about privacy issues.
Employing drones for border patrol is the only potential use covered in the poll that produces notable demographic differences in support. White residents are most supportive (70%). A sizeable but smaller majority of Hispanic (58%) and Asian (59%) residents feel the same. However, fewer than half of black residents (46%) support the use of border-patrolling drones. Interestingly, support for this use among residents of southwestern border states (70%) is not significantly different from those living in other parts of the country.
The latest Monmouth University Poll was conducted by telephone with 1,708 adults from June 4 to 6, 2012. This sample has a margin of error of ± 2.4 percent. The poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute in West Long Branch, New Jersey. The poll, which was released the day after a Navy drone crashed in Maryland, did not ask about possible safety concerns.
Monmouth University graduate students Susan Kane and Andrew Spata contributed to this report.
The questions referred to in this release are as follows:
1. How much have you read or heard about the use of unmanned surveillance aircraft, sometimes called drones, by the U.S. military – a great deal, some, just a little, or nothing at all?
I’d like to ask you about the possible use of unmanned surveillance drone aircraft by law enforcement agencies within the United States.
[QUESTIONS 2 THROUGH 5 WERE ROTATED]
2. Do you support or oppose the use of drones to issue speeding tickets?
3. Do you support or oppose the use of drones to control illegal immigration on the nation’s border?
4. Do you support or oppose the use of drones to help with search and rescue missions?
5. Do you support or oppose the use of drones to track down runaway criminals?
6. How concerned would you be about your own privacy if U.S. law enforcement started using unmanned drones with high tech cameras? Would you be very concerned, somewhat concerned, only a little concerned, or not at all concerned?
The Monmouth University Poll was conducted by the Monmouth University Polling Institute on June 4 to 6, 2012 with a national random sample of 1,708 adults age 18 and older, including 607 via live interview on a landline telephone, 675 via interactive voice response (IVR) on a landline telephone, and 426 via live interview on a cell phone. Interviewing services were provided by Braun Research, Inc. (live landline and cell) and Survey USA (IVR and live cell) and the telephone sample was obtained from Survey Sampling International. Monmouth is responsible for all aspects of the survey questionnaire design, data weighting and analysis. For results based on the total sample, one can say with 95% confidence that the error attributable to sampling has a maximum margin of plus or minus 2.4 percentage points. Sampling error increases as the sample size decreases, so statements based on various population subgroups, such as separate figures reported by gender or party identification, are subject to more error than are statements based on the total sample. In addition to sampling error, one should bear in mind that question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of opinion polls.
It is the Monmouth University Polling Institute’s policy to conduct surveys of all adult residents, including voters and non-voters, on issues that affect the entire nation. Specific voter surveys are conducted when appropriate during election cycles.
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