Antinormative Messaging, Group Cues, and the Nuclear Ban Treaty
Journal of Politics 84(1): 591-596, doi: 10.1086/714924.
30 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2021 Last revised: 8 Mar 2022
Date Written: June 28, 2020
What types of foreign policy cues are most likely to turn public opinion against a popular emerging norm? Since 2017, the U.S. government has sought to discredit the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons and its nuclear non-possession norm among the largely pro-disarmament American public. We fielded a national U.S. survey experiment (N = 1,219) to evaluate the effects of these elite cues as well as social group cues on public opinion. Our study thus offers one of the first experimental assessments of public attitudes toward nuclear disarmament. We find both negative government messages and group cues can shift attitudes. Direct exposure to official rhetoric — particularly substantive security and institutional critiques — most effectively increases opposition to the norm. Yet, we observe that all cues have little effect on respondents’ existing opposition to nuclear arms. The American population may support eventually eliminating nuclear weapons, but majority backing for immediate disarmament appears far from assured.
Keywords: nuclear weapons, survey experiment, norms, international security, international institutions
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