WASHINGTON, DC -- As Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin prepare to meet in Moscow to consider how to jumpstart their stalled efforts to reduce remaining U.S. and Russian nuclear weapons stockpiles, the latest public opinion surveys of American voters show that a majority support U.S. nuclear weapons policies that would either reduce or eliminate nuclear weapons. According to a new series of bipartisan poll conducted in five geographically-representative states, when asked "What should be the goal of U.S. nuclear weapons policy?" a plurality of voters (45%-49%) say they support "eliminating nuclear weapons worldwide," a quarter to a third (24%-33%) support "reducing the number of nuclear weapons" worldwide, while only 11%-15% want to "maintain" existing numbers of weapons, and only 6%-15% support "building new and better nuclear weapons for the United States."
The polls were commissioned by the Coalition to Reduce Nuclear Dangers, a non-partisan alliance of 17 of the nation's leading arms control groups. The results are based on the findings of opinion surveys of registered voters in Oregon, Nebraska, Utah, Kansas, and Tennessee conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide, a Republican polling firm, and a Democratic firm, The Mellman Group, from June 20-24. The statistical margin of error is plus or minus 4.4 to 4.9 percentage points.
Stuck on START
Nearly ten years after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, the dangers posed by nuclear weapons still persist and remain a central factor of the U.S.-Russian relationship. However, since taking office, President Clinton has not yet finalized a nuclear arms reduction agreement with Russia. In January 1996, the U.S. Senate approved the START II agreement, but the Russian Duma has delayed consideration of the pact. Today, it is estimated that the U.S. and Russia still deploy a combined total of over 18,000 strategic and tactical nuclear warheads.
The lack of progress on START has led to new calls by some U.S. allies and non-nuclear states for more aggressive action on disarmament by the original five nuclear weapon states. A proposal issued on June 9, 1998 by Ireland, South Africa, Brazil and five other states calls on the eight nuclear weapon states to make "a clear commitment to the speedy, final and total elimination of their nuclear weapons and nuclear weapons capability and we urge them to take that step now." The impasse on START II and continuing risk of an accidental nuclear exchange has prompted a growing number of leading nuclear security experts to propose that the U.S. and Russia pursue new "unilateral, reciprocal" nuclear arms reduction measures, such as those concluded by Presidents Bush and Yeltsin in 1991. These measures might involve removing nuclear forces from "hair-trigger" alert, which could substantially reduce the risk of accidental nuclear war.
National Polls Show Majority Support for Nuclear Arms Cuts
The most recent national surveys also show majority support for further nuclear arms cuts. A September 1997 national poll conducted by The Mellman Group for The Henry L. Stimson Center reveals that more than two-thirds (69%) of registered voters believe a goal of the United States should be to either reduce or to eliminate nuclear weapons. Over one-third (36%) support total elimination of nuclear weapons while another third (33%) favor further reductions. Only 14% favor building "new or better nuclear weapons," while 13% favor maintaining current stockpiles. The survey shows support for nuclear weapons elimination/reductions across all groups. The results are based on a survey of 800 registered voters. The statistical margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
The results of another major national public opinion survey conducted in 1995 and again in 1997 by the University of New Mexico (UNM) Institute for Public Policy reveals that there is majority support for "a treaty provision that would require the U.S. to eliminate its nuclear arsenal." In the UNM 1997 survey, 51% of the public supports such a treaty provision, while 40% oppose. The UNM's 1995 survey showed equally strong support (53%), and even lower opposition (31%). The UNM results are based on a 1995 survey of 1387 adults and a 1997 survey of 898 adults. The study was conducted with funding by Sandia National Laboratories.
"Americans understand that the risks of nuclear weapons are still unacceptable and that action must be taken to further reduce and even eliminate the huge stocks of weapons left over from the Cold War. No matter how the survey questions are written, Americans of all stripes expect strong action to reduce the nuclear dangers that still threaten them and their children. In the mutual interests of their people and the rest of the world, Presidents Clinton and Yeltsin must take decisive action to break the current nuclear disarmament deadlock."