CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal

Boots Off the Ground: The Impact of Individual-Level Factors on American Public Approval of Lethal Drone Strikes

Katherine Fink

Division: Social Sciences

Dept/Program: Political Science

Document Type: Undergraduate Student Research

Mentor(s): Michael Horowitz

Date of this Version: 25 March 2019



Although the American public is divided on many policies, the majority of Americans (commonly close to 60%) continue to support a relatively controversial form of military technology: lethal drone strikes used to target terrorists in foreign countries. This study seeks to determine what factors affect American public approval of lethal drone strikes and which factor yields the greatest impact on support. Four main arguments for and against drone strikes are explored—military effectiveness, military ineffectiveness, violations of international law, and increased ease of military intervention. Employing a survey experiment on Amazon Mechanical Turk, I find that international law concerns produce the most substantial negative impact on approval; that is, respondents exposed to the International Law treatment are the most likely to disapprove of US usage of lethal drone strikes. The other experimental conditions resulted in slight increases in approval; however, the degree of these changes is relatively inconsequential. This study also shows that identification as a Republican, Hispanic/Latino origin, prior service in the armed forces, and having a relationship to someone who has served in the military are the most significant predictors of approval. Conversely, females are significantly more likely to disapprove of lethal drone strikes. These findings answer questions about not only what underpins public attitudes regarding lethal drone strikes, but also how these determinants could apply to public approval of increasingly autonomous weaponry systems.


Political Science

Suggested Citation

Fink, Katherine, "Boots Off the Ground: The Impact of Individual-Level Factors on American Public Approval of Lethal Drone Strikes" 25 March 2019. CUREJ: College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania,

Date Posted: 17 May 2019




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