New poll shows SC voters cool on nukes

More than two-thirds of likely Republican and Democratic primary voters in South Carolina want the United States to lead the world in reducing the number of nuclear weapons globally and believe that those reductions would make the United States safer, according to a new public opinion poll commissioned by the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS).

Majorities in both parties further agreed that current U.S. policy makes it more likely that other countries will try to acquire their own nuclear weapons, because that policy includes the option of using nuclear weapons against countries without nuclear weapons. Likewise, majorities oppose the U.S. policy option of using nuclear weapons first in a conflict, and believe the United States should only use nuclear weapons in response to a nuclear attack, or should never use them. (For a brief overview of the poll, click here.

“These poll results demonstrate that there is bipartisan support for a new U.S. nuclear weapons policy,” said Dr. Lisbeth Gronlund, co-director of UCS’s Global Security Program. “Voters in South Carolina, like those throughout the country, consider U.S. words and actions to be critical to stopping the spread of nuclear weapons.”

For example, 80 percent of those polled from each party, she pointed out, agree that the United States should take a more active diplomatic approach to keeping such countries as Iran and North Korea from developing nuclear weapons.

The public opinion survey of 400 likely Democratic primary voters and 400 likely Republican voters was conducted between Nov. 27 and Dec. 2 by Hamilton Campaigns, a national Democratic public opinion research firm, and Ayres, McHenry & Associates, a Republican public opinion research firm. There was a 4.9 percent margin of error. Because UCS is a 501c3 non-profit organization, the survey did not include any questions about preferences for particular candidates.

The debate over U.S. nuclear weapons policy has intensified since last January when a bipartisan group of prominent former policymakers – Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, Sam Nunn and William Perry – published an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal calling for bold U.S. leadership to aggressively pursue “the goal of a world free of nuclear weapons.” Since then several presidential candidates have spoken publicly about U.S. nuclear weapons policy, specifically in the context of U.S. relations with Pakistan and Iran.

“The poll findings suggest that the next president will have the opportunity to make bipartisan progress on nuclear weapons policy,” said Bryan Dooley, vice president of Hamilton Campaigns.

Jon McHenry, principal with Ayres, McHenry & Associates, agreed. He noted that the poll found that a plurality of Republicans in a state as politically conservative as South Carolina joined Democrats in stating that “the next president should make reducing global nuclear arsenals a major priority.” He also said it is “significant that more South Carolina voters from each party support the global elimination of nuclear weapons rather than oppose the idea if there were an effective international system in place to verify compliance.”

The UCS poll comes on the heels of a major international public opinion poll on nuclear weapons conducted by WorldPublicopinion.org and the University of Maryland’s Center for International and Security Studies. Released in early November, that poll found that large majorities of both Russians and Americans favored an agreement among all countries to eliminate all nuclear weapons, assuming that there is a well-established system for verifying compliance. (For that poll’s results, go to: www.worldpublicopinion.org.)

“We conducted our poll in South Carolina, a conservative, pro-military state, for very strategic reasons,” said Sean Meyer, project manager for UCS’s U.S. Nuclear Weapons Policy Initiative. “We wanted to raise this issue in a key presidential primary state to show that nuclear weapons are a bipartisanship concern. These weapons represent one of the gravest threats to civilization and we want the next president and Congress to work together to reduce that threat.”

Formed in 1969, the Union of Concerned Scientists is the leading science-based nonprofit organization working for a healthy environment and a safer world. UCS has offices in Cambridge, Massachusetts; Berkeley, California; and Washington, D.C. For more information, go to www.ucsusa.org.

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