What Prime Directive? New Poll Shows Public Prefers First Contact With Aliens

According to surprising new polling, the world isn’t yet fully on board with Star Trek’s Prime Directive approach of non-interference with potential future alien encounters.

Americans not sure about Star Trek’s Prime Directive

The subject of exploring new worlds and new civilizations has become more topical, especially following NASA’s recent announcement that they had discovered seven Earth-sized planets in the habitable zone around the star Trappist-1, about 40 light years from Earth. And last summer an Earth-sized planet was discovered orbiting in the habitable zone of our nearest stellar neighbor Proxima Centauri, a mere 4 light years away.

NASA has recently discovered a number of strange new worlds

NASA has recently discovered a number of strange new worlds

All this talk of new planets garnered the interest of the international polling firm YouGov – who conduct scientific surveys for media outlets like The Economist as well as major corporations and non-profits – to find out how people view the possibility of alien life. Their first round of polling showed a plurality of Americans (40%) believed that some form of alien life existed on these recently discovered planets, but there seemed to be no consensus on why humanity has yet to be contacted by any advanced civilization.

This was followed up with a new round of polling that YouGov has just supplied to TrekMovie regarding how Americans felt about how future human explorers should treat less advanced civilizations. It turns out that Star Trek’s much vaunted “Prime Directive” of non-interference did not come out on top. More Americans (34%) believe we should make contact with these aliens and do what we can to help them, with 29% feeling we should apply Starfleet General Order #1 and simply leave them alone. Much less popular were the more aggressive approaches, with 5% approving of what you might call the Cardassian philosophy of enslaving the aliens, and even less popular was the idea of extermination, with only 3% backing this more Klingon view. See below for the full question and results.


YouGov conducted the same poll with people in the UK and the results were slightly different. The British public is more amenable to the Prime Directive approach, which came out on top with 37% support, with 36% backing benign interference. The two more aggressive approaches (enslavement and extermination) only received a combined 3% support.


It is striking that less than 40% of Americans and Brits back the the idea of the Prime Directive. While Star Trek has shown that in the future there were some critics to this approach of non-interference, and while certainly there were periodic violations, the rule was generally taken very seriously. It may be that this was only due to learning the dangers of getting involved before a civilization is ready to travel the stars.

Even with the best of intentions there can always be unforeseen consequences, possibly resulting in a Gangster Planet or even Space Nazis. And this isn’t isolated to Star Trek’s Prime timeline; we saw the new crew of the USS Enterprise inadvertently destroy/create a religion after saving a species from extinction in Star Trek Into Darkness.

Star Trek shows us that if you interfere with an alien culture, it may come back to bite you

Star Trek shows if you interfere with an alien culture, it may blow back on you

Keep up with all the Star Trek in the zeitgeist here at TrekMovie.com.

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I’d say if they polled Treckers it would be 90% for Prime Directive. We’ve already seen what can happen when we interfere.

i would have answered make contact and exterminate them, not because i would like that, but simply because it is listed as an option… honestly, people get paid for making such polls? that every third wants to contact and help them advance is a sign that history education is in ruins.

There’s a third way: to infiltrate their society and nudge them in the right direction. That’s an approach well known from the Strugatsky brothers’ “Noon Universe” series (something any Star Trek fan should definitely read, by the way – more at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noon_Universe ).

But that reeks of the Frankfurt School. We only have to look at the wreckage of Western civilisation to see the damage caused by bleeding communism into free countries. I prefer overt aggression over long marches through institutions and the brainwashing of children.


Reeks of Gary 7 to me.

It’s 40 LY from Earth, not 40 million LY. Correct that.

Makes Voyager’s trip look like a quick stroll.

Of course Americans would prefer “violating” the prime directive. Look at all the third world countries we’ve interfered with in order to “improve there way of life”. Look at the Native American culture that we virtually wiped out.

But it’s interesting that the Brits, with their imperial history, seem to have learned better. At least 37% of them, anyway.

Silence peasants.

Honestly, this kinda lifts my faith in humanity a bit. While non-interference may be a wiser course of action in the long run in many situations, it speaks to the level of compassion people have for others that they would want to peacefully assist less-advanced species. Personally, I think a ‘prime directive’ approach would be best as a guideline for future spacefaring humans, but a certain bit of leeway should be granted so that interference can be permitted, if the situation calls for it.

A “handout” or a “hand up”? Either way, it reeks of paternalism.

This is a problem with polls with limited responses like that. Actual Trek Prime Directive option was not there. Where was the “do not reveal ourselves to them but keep tabs on them from afar until the time was right” option?

So often on pre-answered polls like this one the answer I would give is not listed. They pollster then asks me to answer what “best fits”. Which in my view, totally distorts the results. Hence, my disdain for most polls in general.

Why are these results surprising? They’re not surprising at all. Humans are very self-centered creatures.

I think the wisdom of the Prime Directive is only obvious if people think about the situation for awhile. When confronted with a pollster who wants an answer right away, people don’t really have time to think things through. So those who’ve seen Star Trek or who are students of history go for non-interference, whereas others don’t. We’ll have plenty of time to discuss the issue thoroughly before we’re in a position to go visit alien societies. :-)

Star Trek fiction took many of it’s lessons from Earth’s own history, so it’s not the only place these decisions were illustrated. I would say that this pole sheds light on how many poor students of history we have out there.

Also regarding the difference in American’s vs Brittain’s I wouldn’t be too surprised if Americans look at all of these web poles as entertainment and would happily click on “exterminate them all” just for the fun of it. While in real life they probably wouldn’t opt for that.

Incidentally this pole may also lend support to why a Republican democracy is often better than a true Democratic (majority rules) democracy. Not because some group of “elite” should rule over the majority but because the majority often make flippant decisions on virtually every subject they don’t have direct experience in, without bothering to educate themselves first.

No way. …d r mocratic democracy is best who is to say that people do not know what is best for themselvies. ….do not want an authoritarian facist dictatorship. Whos is to say we are flippen and unsble to make decisions for our selves. ..we have to live our lives ….in what makes us secure and happy. …no body has the right to decide what mskes us secure and happy….we know best.

Exactly. It makes people happy to help another society advance their technology much faster than they would on their own. Doesn’t matter if that is the best thing for them, as long as it makes you feel secure and happy about yourself.

Well, considering how often Trek violated the Prime Directive…who cares?

I’m anti-Prime Directive. My view is that non-interference should be an aim, but, as the TNG episode ‘Homeland’ showed, if a species is in mortal peril, you try to help them, rather than let them die as our ‘heroes’ wanted to do. If a primitive tribe were living on a volcanic island in the Pacific and we knew it would imminently explode, would civilised people accept that we do nothing to help?

So, 8% of the American population would enslave or exterminate them… Obviously people just answered that as a joke… But surely not ALL 8% did that. Society’s IQ went down by at least 25 points since November.

Humanity should not be allowed to get anywhere close to an alien species. We are not ready for that sort of responsibility.

The choices aren’t very good. It’s a bit arrogant to assume we’re more advanced than they are, so choices based on that assumption are flawed. Why not something a bit more neutral, like simply making contact?

I guess there is still enough Americans and Brits who embrace the White Man’s Burden philosophy, in this day and age, having learned nothing from history. SMH.