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Americans on Nuclear Weapons

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Summary of Key Findings

Nuclear Arsenals  

Response to the Number of Nuclear Weapons in US Arsenal and Globally
When informed about the size of the US nuclear arsenal a plurality of nearly half said that it was bigger than they expected, while only one in eight said it was smaller than they expected.  When presented the number of nuclear weapons of each of the other nuclear powers in the world a majority said it was more than they expected with just one in seven saying it was fewer.  

Nuclear Arms Control 

US-Russian Arms Control Treaties 
More than eight in ten favor the US continuing to have arms control treaties with Russia, with support among Republicans comparable to that of Democrats.  

Extending New START
Eight in ten favor the United States agreeing to extend the New START Treaty. 

Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty
Two thirds, including a majority of Republicans, oppose withdrawing from the INF Treaty and favor instead staying within the Treaty and redoubling efforts to work with the Russians to address concerns of both sides.  

Nuclear Weapons Testing
Overwhelming majorities from both parties approve of the US continuing its moratorium on nuclear testing, effectively abiding by the 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty.  In the event the US develops a technological innovation that might make it possible to build a new type of nuclear weapon that could destroy more of an adversary’s nuclear weapons, a majority still said they would oppose breaking the moratorium, though a bare majority of Republicans favored it.

US Nuclear Weapons Capabilities 

Minimum Retaliatory Capability
Eight in ten or more from both parties support the US having a retaliatory nuclear capability destructive enough that no country could think that there would be any advantage in attacking the United States with nuclear weapons.   

Low Yield Warheads and the Need for Matching Nuclear Options
Respondents were presented a rationale for developing nuclear capabilities over and above the minimum retaliatory capability based on the need to threaten to match any type of nuclear capability an adversary might use. When presented a specific example of the current debate over whether the US should put low-yield nuclear warheads on missiles on submarines to match corresponding Russian capabilities, a bipartisan majority of two thirds supported adding a low-yield option to nuclear missiles on submarines.  Yet, when asked about the general principle, a plurality endorsed the view that a minimum retaliatory capability is adequate, over the view that the US must have the capability to retaliate against a major attack using only a type of weapon similar to the type the adversary used. 

Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) 
Knowing that the United States currently has strategic weapons on submarines, bombers, and land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, six in ten, including a majority of Republicans, favor phasing out the ICBM force.  However, only one-third favor unilaterally reducing the net number of strategic warheads in the U.S. arsenal instead of putting more warheads on submarines and bombers to keep the same total as the Russians. 

First Use of Nuclear Weapons 

US Declaratory Policy on First Use
Only one in five endorsed the United States explicitly declaring that it would consider using nuclear weapons first and stating what kinds of non-nuclear attacks would prompt the United States to consider doing so.  Just slightly more than one in five favored explicitly declaring that the United States will never use nuclear weapons first.  A majority favored continuing the current policy of being ambiguous about whether and under what conditions the United States would consider using nuclear weapons first.  Presented a list of possible types of attack, less than one in six favored declaring that the United States would consider using nuclear weapons in response to any of them.  

Limiting Presidential First Use
Two thirds, including six in ten Republicans, support Congressional legislation requiring that to use nuclear weapons first, the President would first have to consult Congress and it would have to issue a declaration of war on the country to be attacked with nuclear weapons.


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