UMD Survey Finds Large Bipartisan Majorities Favor Prohibiting President from Using Nuclear Weapons First Without Congressional Approval

Eight in Ten Support Nuclear Arms Control with Russia, Disagree with Trump Decision to Withdraw from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty

PR Newswire

COLLEGE PARK, Md., May 20, 2019 /PRNewswire/ — A new in-depth survey on U.S. nuclear weapons policy finds that 68% of voters (Republicans 59%, Democrats 74%), support Congressional legislation prohibiting the President from using nuclear weapons first without Congressional approval and a declaration of war. An overwhelming 8 in 10, of Republicans as well as Democrats, do not support a policy shift in the Trump administration’s Nuclear Posture Review that explicitly declares the U.S. would consider using nuclear weapons first and specifies examples of non-nuclear attacks that would prompt such consideration. The study was conducted by the Program for Public Consultation (PPC) and the Center for International and Security Studies (CISSM) at Maryland, with consultation by the Center for Public Integrity.

Support for nuclear arms control remains very robust across party lines. More than 8 in 10 (83%, Republicans 84%, Democrats 83%), favor the US continuing to have arms control treaties with Russia. Eight in ten (82%, Republicans 77%, Democrats 89%) favor the United States agreeing to extend the New START Treaty.

“A large bipartisan majority opposes ideas for making nuclear threats a more usable instrument of policy and favors continuing efforts to constrain and reduce nuclear weapons through arms control treaties,” comments Steven Kull, director of PPC.  

The survey, fielded by Nielsen Scarborough from Jan 7 – Feb 1, 2019, was conducted online with a national probability-based sample of 2,264 registered voters.

Overwhelming majorities (87%, Republicans 85%, Democrats 90%) approve of the US continuing to abide by the moratorium on nuclear testing.

Two thirds favor remaining in the INF Treaty – which the Trump administration started the process of withdrawal from during the fielding of this survey – including a majority of Republicans and people who voted for Trump.

“Americans see arms control as an essential component of a comprehensive strategy to reduce nuclear risks. Trump’s decision to withdraw from the INF treaty is a rare action that goes against what a majority of his base actually wants him to do,” observed Nancy Gallagher, director of CISSM.

To ensure that respondents understood the issues, they were given briefings on current debates on US nuclear weapons policy issues and asked to evaluate competing arguments before making their recommendations. To ensure an accurate and balanced presentation of the issues, the survey material was reviewed by experts with different perspectives.

The public is not convinced that having intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) is necessary. Six in ten, including a majority of Republicans, favor phasing out the 400 US land-based ICBMs that are aging and are vulnerable to a first strike. However, only one-third favor unilaterally reducing the net number of strategic warheads in the U.S. arsenal to 1050 rather than adding warheads to U.S. submarines and bombers if the Russians still have 1550 warheads (the number allowed under New START).

Overwhelming bipartisan majorities agree that the US must have a nuclear arsenal destructive enough that no country could think that there would be any advantage in attacking the United States with nuclear weapons. A plurality (49%) also agree that this minimum requirement is sufficient, and that the US does not need a nuclear arsenal which could also respond in-kind to any nuclear attack. However, when asked about a proposal in line with that requirement, in which the US would put low-yield nuclear weapons on submarines so that it can retaliate against a Russian attack using a similar weapon, two thirds were in favor.

Contact: Steven Kull (PPC) 301-254-7500,
Nancy Gallagher (CISSM) 301-405-7610


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SOURCE Program for Public Consultation