February 10, 2020 | By Craig Kafura

Millennials Not That Into Drones

Last month’s assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and recent news of the US killing an al-Qaeda leader in Yemen, focused Americans’ attention on the Middle East and shed light on the extent to which the United States relies on drone strikes in its foreign policy. As the Council’s January survey showed, more Americans say Soleimani’s killing makes the United States less safe (47%) than more safe (28%), with 22 percent saying it makes no difference. That point of view is particularly strong among Millennials: six in ten (59%) say the strike will make the US less safe, compared to two in ten (22%) who think it will make no difference, and sixteen percent who say it will make the country safer.

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This fits with a broader pattern among Millennials. In the 2019 Chicago Council Survey, roughly half of Americans overall (48%) said that conducting drone strikes against suspected terrorists in other countries makes the US safer, while three in ten (31%) said it makes the US less safe; 19 percent saw no difference. Millennials were more even skeptical of the benefits of drone strikes, with four in ten (42%) saying they make the United States less safe.

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Still, Millennials haven’t rejected the US drone program entirely. Two-thirds (67%) still see drone strikes against suspected terrorists in other countries as an effective approach to achieving US foreign policy goals, though this is lower than for older generations. But Millennials are notably less likely to see drone strikes as a very effective approach (26%, vs. 33% of Gen X and 44% of Boomers).

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So what kinds of policies do Millennials favor? Alliances come out on top. Seven in ten Millennials say that US alliances with other countries make the US safer (72%), and a majority of Millennials (53%) say that maintaining existing alliances is a very effective means of achieving US foreign policy goals. Millennials also see maintaining US military superiority (56%), promoting democracy and human rights (54%), and participating in international organizations (54%) as making the US safer.


For more on generational differences on US foreign policy, see the Council’s latest report: OK, Boomer: Youth Hesitant to Use Force, Shun US Exceptionalism in Foreign Policy.


NB: The Council’s January 2020 nationwide survey of 1,019 Americans did not contain enough members of the Silent generation or Gen Z to report results among those cohorts.


The Chicago Council on Global Affairs highlights critical shifts in American public thinking on US foreign policy through public opinion surveys and research conducted under the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy. 

The annual Chicago Council Survey, first conducted in 1974, is a valuable resource for policymakers, academics, media, and the general public. The Council also surveys American leaders in government, business, academia, think tanks, and religious organizations biennially to compare trends in their thinking with overall trends. And collaborating with partner organizations, the survey team periodically conducts parallel surveys of public opinion in other regions of the world to compare with US public opinion. 

The Running Numbers blog features regular commentary and analysis from the Council’s public opinion and US foreign policy research team, including a series of flash polls of a select group of foreign policy experts to assess their opinions on critical foreign policy topics driving the news.


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