IEEE Technology and Society Magazine - March 2018 - 82

have a significant impact favoring prevention framing that is consistent over time.

UAV Autonomy
We also examined the effect of UAV autonomy on U.S.
public support. The effect of the autonomy of UAVs on
public support has been studied in the context of military
drones, where the primary ethical concerns are related to
risk of collateral damage and the use of conscience-free
weapons making life-and-death decisions [14], [15]. The
autonomy of other technologies has also raised public
concern - for example, the public has been leery of selfdriving cars [16]. UAV autonomy has been less studied in
the context of civilian uses. We sought to fill that gap by
examining autonomy as it relates to different UAV purposes. We hypothesized that autonomy will matter less in
domains where automation increases efficiency and reliability without raising clear ethical concerns. For example, many have suggested that economic topics like
budgeting and taxes are less relevant to people's moral
and ethical concerns than life and death topics like abortion and the death penalty (see review in [17]). Wariness
of self-driving cars could also be related to fears about
deaths and injuries. In the context of security and
defense, respondents might imagine the UAVs autonomously doing harm. However, UAV autonomy may be less
related to public support when UAVs are used for economic or environmental goals. Thus, our second research
question and hypothesis is:
■■ RQ2: Does autonomy of the UAVs affect public support (and/or does it depend on the purpose of the
UAVs)?
■■ H2: Autonomy will have a negative influence on support in the context of using UAVs for security, but
will have less or no influence in the context of using
UAVs for economic or environmental purposes.

UAV Purpose, Perceptions of the UAV End-User, and
Political Polarization
Prior studies suggest UAV purposes influence attitudes
towards UAVs, in both the U.S. and elsewhere [18]. U.S.
public opinion is rather positive in the context of military [19], [20] and security [21], [22]. Further, polls suggest the U.S. public supports UAV use for search and
rescue and scientific research purposes, while being
less favorable toward every day commercial uses such
as package delivery or local law enforcement (e.g.,
crowd monitoring and crime detection) [23].
However, the extent to which public attitudes toward
UAVs are or may be becoming politically polarized
has been given only scant attention to date [23]. Such
investigations are important given the manner in which
public polarization has impacted progress related to
other science and technologies. For example, public

82

responses to genetically modified foods was quite different in the Europe versus the U.S. [24].
We explored the possible provocation of political
polarization around UAVs in two ways: First, we explicitly
tied certain UAV capabilities to commonly studied political issues (e.g., water sampling in the service of environmental conservation, or using commercial UAVs to build a
strong economy). Second, we varied the actor using the
UAV (i.e., public or private domain). There are political
differences in attitudes toward business versus governmental actors in different situations. For example, selfidentified conservatives generally favor free market forces
over governmental involvement, and [25] found that conservatives report less trust in government than liberals.
Yet greater trust in government has been found among
conservatives when considering foreign rather than
domestic policy [26], and conservatives may support government involvement when it comes to security and
defense [27]. These results suggest that UAV purpose and
end user need to be considered in combination.
Related to the experimental variation of UAV purposes and end users, we also assessed issue attitudes
(toward environmental, security and economic issues)
and perceptions of end-user trustworthiness. Miethe
et al. [23] suggest that, among other factors, distrust of
actors using the UAVs may have resulted in low support
for use of UAVs for crowd monitoring or use near one's
home. Including measures of issue attitudes and actor
trustworthiness allowed us to test whether any differences related to actor, or actor and purpose were due to
differences in such attitudes. Our final research questions and hypotheses were as follows:
■■ RQ3: What are the most important factors affecting
public support for UAV development and use (and
did these factors change from 2014 to 2015)?
■■ H3: Consistent with prior research, the purpose of
UAVs will be among the most important predictors
across both 2014 and 2015.
■■ RQ4: What conditions, if any, appear to elicit politically polarized responses (and did these conditions
change from 2014 to 2015)?
■■ H4: Polarized support will be dependent upon both
the purpose of UAVs and the actor using them,
with heightened polarization apparent when UAVs
are used to address polarizing issues (e.g., the
environment) and used by end users that are differentially trusted dependent upon ideology (e.g., the
government).

Methodology
Study Design
To investigate our research questions, we used a "vignette
survey experiment" [28] administered to a convenience

IEEE Technology and Society Magazine

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