Are U.S. Drone Strikes Racist? Evidence of Public Attitude Formation in the United States
32 Pages Posted: 10 Mar 2023
Date Written: March 10, 2023
Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, U.S. officials have used armed unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, to kill terrorists abroad. Despite or because of strong support among Americans, critics claim that U.S. drone strikes are racist. Yet, there is no systematic evidence that these operations are racialized. We field two original and image-based survey experiments on U.S. citizens and members of the military to empirically assess the relationship between race and attitudes of support for U.S. drone strikes. Our study isolates the causal effect of two mechanisms that scholars argue shape racial preferences for strikes, including the skin color and geographic setting of a target. We find little evidence that U.S. citizens calibrate their support for strikes along these lines, and this is consistent but more pronounced among the military. Rather, our results show that respondents with racist worldviews are more likely to support drone strikes invariant of a target’s skin color and location, and that providing more contextual detail on the target can decrease support for these operations. Our findings suggest that the way officials frame U.S. drone strikes, often de-emphasizing targets as humans, has potentially more important implications for public support than do implicit racist attitudes.
Keywords: Counterterrorism, Drones, Public Opinion, Race
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