AP-NORC poll: Nuclear fears in the USA amid Russia-Ukraine conflict

Most Americans are at least slightly concerned about the U.S.'s involvement in Russia's war against Ukraine. 

AP-NORC poll: Nuclear fears in the USA amid Russia-Ukraine conflict

The conflict will lead to the United States being drawn into it and could result in nuclear weapons. A new poll shows that Americans are more concerned than ever about the possibility of being targeted with nuclear weapons.

According to a new poll by The Associated Press -NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, close to half of Americans are concerned that Russia will directly target the U.S. Russian President Vladimir Putin put his country's nuclear force on high alert immediately after the February 24th invasion.

About 9 out of 10 Americans are concerned that Putin could use nuclear weapons against Ukraine. This includes 6 out 10 Americans who are extremely concerned.

Robin Thompson, a retired researcher in Amherst Massachusetts, said that "He is out-of control" and that he doesn't seem to care about anything other than what he wants. "And he also has nuclear weapons."

Seventy-one per cent of Americans believe that the invasion has raised the likelihood of nuclear weapons being used around the globe.

This poll was taken before North Korea tested-fired its largest intercontinental ballistic missile Friday. However, 51% of Americans said they are very worried about the U.S.'s nuclear program. Additional 29% expressed moderate concern.

For decades, fear of nuclear war has been a part of human life. Since 1947, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published the "Doomsday Clock", which shows a theoretical countdown until nuclear annihilation. In January, the latest update put the time at 100 minutes to midnight. This is unchanged from 2020 but it's still close to Armageddon.

Because polls use different methods or ask different questions, it's hard to gauge the public's fear level over time. Alex Wellerstein is a nuclear historian from the Stevens Institute of Technology, New Jersey. He said that people will often not bring up the topic on their own, but would list it as one of their concerns if they were given the option.

Naturally, fear can fluctuate in response to what is going on around the globe. Wellerstein stated that there are times when we have to deal with high-stress situations. "And then they come an go, and people forget we ever had them."

He said that 1983 was a period of tension between the U.S.A. and Soviet Union. It also marks the first time that "The Day After," a movie about nuclear war, was aired on American television.

Nearly half of Americans surveyed by AP-NORC said they are concerned about the possibility that the U.S. could be involved in a conflict with Russia. About 4 out 10 Americans stated that they are "somewhat concerned".

These findings are not only a reflection of anxiety over what appears to be a proxy war against Russia, even though the U.S. hasn't directly been involved in the conflict but also reflect the unprecedented saturation of coverage of the war via traditional news outlets as well as social media.

Linda Woodward, a former technician at a phone company in Hot Springs Village, Arkansas, said that "we are seeing almost every moment what's happening" to the poor.

Concern about nuclear war is not limited to one party and resonates even with young adults born after the Cold War.

Caleb Pack (a 21-year old Republican from Ardmore in Oklahoma) was one of those who expressed concern that the U.S. might be drawn into war and that Russia would target America with nuclear weapons.

Pack, an information systems professional, said that Russia's ultimate goal is to reclaim Soviet Union territories. This would mean they are going to push into NATO countries which could lead to escalated tensions.

Russia has not taken any steps to address these concerns. When Putin made what seemed to be an alarming threat, he reminded the entire world that Russia is "one the most powerful nuclear countries" in a speech on the day he launched his invasion.

Tara Drozdenko is the director of the global safety program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. She stated that nuclear-armed countries are always more likely to become involved in conflict.

Drozdenko stated that NATO and the Biden administration had been careful to not escalate the situation. She believes that the public should take this opportunity to demand changes to reduce the risk. To reduce the chance of an enemy striking first with nuclear weapons, the U.S. should adopt a policy that states explicitly that it will not launch a strike. The president would then have the final authority to launch a strike.

Historian Wellerstein sees potential upsides to the increased state of concern. Research has shown that people can become more involved in a topic after a crisis.

He stated that "this thing with Ukraine will invariably end, hopefully sooner than expected." This could be a chance to get a lot of people, especially younger, involved in this political issue."


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