A new poll commissioned in August by the Mitchell Institute here shows that a bipartisan group of U.S. voters favored acquisition of a new ground-based intercontinental ballistic missile fleet.

The online poll, conducted in August 2021 by Washington-based communications firm Seven Letter, sampled 2,150 people who voted in the 2020 election. The study oversampled voters in 10 states with either intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) silos or industry that supports such  missiles. Oversampling can increase pollsters’ insight into populations that make up a relatively small part of a survey.

The Mitchell Institute shared the results of the poll with Washington-based reporters, including sister publication

Nuclear Security & Deterrence Monitor, on Wednesday.

The planned Ground Based Strategic Deterrent (GBSD) ICBMs, and Northrop Grumman’s [NOC] 10-year, $13-billion Air Force contract to design and build the first missiles in the fleet, has been an increasingly sensitive issue among doves and hawks in Washington since Democrats took over the House of Representatives in 2018. 

Since then, groups including the decided pro-nuclear Mitchell Institute and the decidedly anti-nuclear Federation of American Scientists of Washington have commissioned public opinion polls as part of their efforts to color the debate about nuclear modernization in Washington.

The Mitchell-commissioned poll found bipartisan support this summer for building a new ICBM fleet and that military spending made both Democrats and Republicans feel safer, on the whole. Conversely, the Federation of American Scientist poll — conducted by ReThink Media of Berkeley, Calif., in late October 2020 among some 800 registered voters — found that most Americans supported some alternative to GBSD, and that military spending “overwhelmingly do[es] not” correlate with feelings of security.

The anti-nukers were out with their poll first, ahead of both Joe Biden’s swearing in as president and the nuclear posture review his administration plans to finish in early 2022. Opponents of the 30-year, $1 trillion nuclear modernization plan that began in 2016 see the Biden review as a chance to shrink the U.S. arsenal in light of Biden’s curiosity about “reduc[ing] the role of nuclear weapons in our national security strategy,” as one Pentagon official put it this spring.

As the extra-governmental beltway debates about GBSD rage, Congress has more or less stayed the course on the missile specifically and modernization generally. As a body, Congress has supported GBSD even since the Senate flipped in 2020, and the Air Force got Northrop Grumman’s contract out the door in 2019, around the time Smith’s biggest legislative push to tap the brakes on the program fell short in the House.

The Obama administration’s modernization plan has more or less carried through to the Biden administration, with only relatively minor supplements from the Trump administration, in the form of a low-yield submarine-launched ballistic missile warhead deployed in late 2019, some studies into a nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile and the continued maintenance of the megaton-class B83 gravity bomb that the Trump administration decided to keep on life support rather than retire, as the Obama administration had proposed.