Origins of U.S. Public Opinion for Drone Strikes

By: Grant Cohen  

Armed, unmanned aerial vehicles have been an increasingly important tool of US foreign policy since the George W. Bush era, and emerged as the Barack Obama administration’s weapon of choice. Some say drone strikes are necessary to reduce American casualties abroad and protect lives at home, while others argue they terrorize communities and violate the sovereignty of states throughout the world. Meanwhile, the American public has consistently supported this controversial tactic, while most of the world – including close US allies – oppose it. In this paper, I analyze congressional rhetoric, presidential rhetoric, and mainstream TV news content regarding the use of drones from 2000 through 2015 and compare the results to nationally representative surveys that measure support and opposition for drone strikes. The findings show a significant relationship between the frequency and types of messages espoused by elites and media, and US public opinion. Moreover, the analysis reveals a important relationship between media structures and tendencies, journalists' reliance on official sources regarding foreign affairs, and thew way the public views particular issues. These results have important implications for the democratic process and the origins of Americans’ perception of the use of force, and show support for both framing effects and indexing theory.

Media, Politics, US Foreign Policy, Use of Force
Media Theory
Paper Presentation in a Themed Session

Grant Cohen

United States