“A Smoking, Radiating Ruin: Explaining Public Opinion on the Use of Nuclear Weapons,” Tyler Bowen and Michael Goldfien, Yale University
ISPS EXPERIMENTS WORKSHOP
Abstract: Does the U.S. public have an aversion to using nuclear weapons? And if so, what are its sources? The existing literature offers two explanations: (1) a nuclear taboo theory and (2) a non-use tradition theory. We put forward a new, material consequences theory of nuclear non-use. The material consequences theory views nuclear non-use as inextricably linked to the normatively bad material and instrumental consequences of a nuclear strike. We conduct both a survey experiment and a conjoint analysis to test these theories and find strong evidence for nuclear aversion in general and for the material consequences explanation in particular. Our survey design intentionally parallels earlier experimental studies, which allows for easy comparisons and the accumulation of knowledge. Our study leads us to reassess these earlier studies, which conclude that nuclear aversion is weak and primarily strategic in nature.
Tyler Bowen is a Ph.D. Candidate in political science who focuses on nuclear crisis dynamics and U.S. grand strategy.
Michael Goldfien is a doctoral student in political science and does research on international security and diplomacy.