Americans Want Abolition of Nuclear Weapons, not just Limitations!

By Timmon Wallis

September 23, 2019: A NuclearBan.US poll, conducted on its behalf this week[1] by YouGov, reveals that 49% of Americans think that the US should work with the other nuclear armed countries to eliminate all nuclear weapons from all countries, in line with the 2017 UN Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (“Nuclear Ban Treaty”). Only 32% think that the US should continue to ignore the new treaty and hold on to its nuclear weapons regardless of what other countries think or do, while a further 19% say they “don’t know”. 

Among Democrats, the figures are 70% in favor of working to eliminate all nuclear weapons versus 17% for holding onto them no matter what. Among Republicans, 57% are for holding onto nuclear weapons while only 30% want to eliminate them all. Overall, strongest support for the elimination of all nuclear weapons comes from women (52%), those aged 55 or over (53%), those on the West Coast (54%), Hispanics (56%), those with a four year college degree (61%) and those who voted for Clinton in 2016 (74%).

Previous polls have focused on the level of public support for specific nuclear weapons policies, such as the ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons, a further reduction in stockpile numbers of nuclear weapons or other policy changes short of actually getting rid of these weapons altogether. These other polls may have inadvertently served to weaken support in the US for the new treaty, agreed by 122 countries at the United Nations in 2017.

A 2016 poll by YouGov and Huffington Post,[2] for instance, showed that a clear 50% of Americans supported the US using nuclear weapons “only in response to a nuclear attack.” This poll has been used extensively to argue that campaigning groups should focus their efforts on promoting a policy of ‘no first use’ because there is clear public support for this.

A more recent poll conducted by the University of Maryland in May 2019[3] tried to gauge opinion on a number of fairly complex nuclear weapons policy questions. Among their many findings was that 74% of Democrats support a bill limiting presidential first use of nuclear weapons. Once again, this has been used as an argument in favor of focusing efforts on this very specific policy initiative. 

What we now know from the most recent poll is that almost as many Americans support the total elimination of all nuclear weapons as support more limited policy objectives like ‘no first use.’ And almost as many Democrats support the total elimination of all nuclear weapons as support the bill limiting presidential first use of nuclear weapons. This is a hugely important finding. It means that campaigners can now focus on the real goal of eliminating nuclear weapons from the face of the earth, knowing that very close to half of all Americans support them, as do nearly three-quarters of those likely to vote for a new president in the next election.

Timmon Wallis is the Executive Director of NuclearBan.US

[1] All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 1355 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 20th – 23rd September 2019.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are politically representative of all US adults (aged 18+).



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