In the 1980s, an overwhelming majority of Americans, 75% to 85%, favored a bilateral freeze on development, production, and deployment (excluding research) of all nuclear weapons. In the years since, no one has asked that question other than my organization, ATI.
Now let me tell a remarkable story about the strength of the public's position on control of nuclear weapons that opens up nuclear arms reduction possibilities well beyond a freeze. Bob Teeter was a Republican pollster for ATI. Almost 18 years ago, he sought and was given the opportunity to prove that the public did not really want to eliminate nuclear weapons. He created a set of questions for that purpose. It began with "Which is more desirable" and gave two choices. One was "For a few major countries including the United States to have enough nuclear arms so no country would dare attack them." Only 41% desired that, compared with the alternative Teeter offered, the "elimination of all nuclear arms in the world." A 56% majority desired total elimination. Teeter went on to ask the 56% who favored elimination, "What is the lowest reduction in nuclear arms in the next few years you would consider satisfactory?" Respondents were allowed to choose one of these reductions: 20%, 50%, 90% or eliminated completely. The percentage of people who were satisfied only with complete elimination was still a majority, 51%.
Teeter wasn't giving up. He asked several more probing questions. He then re-asked the initial question. The desire for "elimination of all nuclear weapons in the world" dropped only slightly from 56% to 53%, still a majority.
Here the story gets hot. Teeter, when he was designing these questions was pollster for President George Herbert Walker Bush. Later Teeter became his campaign manager. Teeter was highly regarded by the Republican leaders ever thereafter. How highly? Well, when Teeter was slowly dying of cancer early in 2004, Vice President Dick Cheney visited his sick bed to commend him for doing as much or more than anyone to get the Republican party into its strong position, and gave him the highest medal President George W. Bush could offer. Now, in fairness, I knew and liked Bob Teeter, a very honest, straightforward guy. But the important point of this story is that data exist suggesting public support for "world-wide elimination of all nuclear weapons" as a new target.So far, I have used only old polling data. Let's get more up-to-date. Just seven months ago, an Associated Press poll showed 66% saying that no country should be allowed to have nuclear weapons and, with slightly different wording, 77% would prefer all countries to be without nuclear weapons -- either way a definite increase over the maximum support of 56 percent found in 1987. The public's position, ever more strongly upheld, is diametrically in opposition to the policy accepted by every president starting with George Herbert Walker Bush that the United States and a few other countries should be the only ones allowed to have nuclear weapons.
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