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

Katherine posing in front of her research poster.



Professor of Political Science

Project Summary

My project, entitled “Boots Off the Ground: The Impact of Individual-Level Factors on American Public Approval of Lethal Drone Strikes,” sought to understand which factors most strongly influence American public approval of the use of lethal drone strikes in military operations. My inspiration for this project stemmed from reading that in a national survey conducted by Pew Research Center in May 2015, 58% of the American public approved of US usage of lethal drone strikes to target terrorists in foreign countries, which seemed surprisingly high. I investigated this phenomenon by conducting a survey experiment on Amazon Mechanical Turk. Respondents read a stimulus describing a hypothetical scenario in which the US discovered an extremist group in Pakistan believed to possess intentions to attack the US. In response to this threat, the US was planning on using lethal drone strikes to target this group. I tested various hypotheses about how the presentation of different factors including military effectiveness, international law violations, or concerns about increased ease of military intervention would influence Americans’ level of approval. The findings showed that international law concerns exert the most significant influence on approval, yet the majority of Americans still approve of the use of lethal drone strikes. Also, the results confirmed previous findings in the preexisting literature, demonstrating that partisanship, gender, and prior service in the armed forces are the most significant predictors of approval. That is, identification as a Republican and prior service in the armed forces significantly increase the likelihood of approval whereas females are significantly more likely to disapprove of lethal drone strikes. Overall, this project illustrates the enduring nature of American public support for lethal drone strikes, which speaks to the importance placed upon the protection of American soldiers’ lives.

Through my experience with this project, I have learned invaluable skills about how to design and execute an original piece of academic research. Prior to this project, I had written long research papers for various courses, but I had never been responsible for creating a project from scratch. I learned how to effectively write a survey instrument, utilize Amazon Mechanical Turk, and improved my ability to conduct statistical analysis in RStudio. This project sparked my interest in learning how to transform a puzzling question into an empirical study.