Elite Taboos: New Evidence on Public-Elite Gaps in Support for Nuclear and Chemical Strikes

36 Pages Posted: 13 Feb 2024

See all articles by Michal Smetana

Michal Smetana

Charles University

Marek Vranka

Prague University of Economics and Business; Charles University in Prague

Ondřej Rosendorf

Charles University in Prague

Date Written: January 19, 2024

Abstract

Despite the emergence of strong international norms against the use of weapons of mass destruction, individuals in population surveys frequently express attitudes that seem to contradict the expectations of the social constructivist scholarship on nuclear and chemical “taboos.” In this paper, we aim to provide empirical evidence for the theory that nuclear and chemical nonuse norms are primarily “elite taboos.” This theory builds on the claim that, compared to the general public, political elites are substantially more likely to perceive the nonuse of nuclear and chemical weapons as a categorical proscription in international politics. To test whether there is a public-elite gap, we designed an original survey investigating attitudes toward nuclear and chemical use and fielded it to representative samples of British citizens and members of the UK parliament. The survey included an experimental part, which varied the type of unconventional weapon available as a militarily more effective alternative to the conventional strike. Our results provide strong support for the theory of elite taboos, with the parliamentarians expressing a significantly stronger aversion to the use of weapons of mass destruction than the respondents in the public sample. These findings help us to resolve one of the longstanding puzzles in contemporary scholarship on the nonuse of nuclear and chemical weapons in world politics by showing that taboo-like thinking likely prevails among political elites but not the general public.

Keywords: nuclear taboo, chemical taboo, weapons of mass destruction, norms, public opinion, elite survey, survey experiment

Suggested Citation

Smetana, Michal and Vranka, Marek and Rosendorf, Ondřej, Elite Taboos: New Evidence on Public-Elite Gaps in Support for Nuclear and Chemical Strikes (January 19, 2024). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4702665 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.4702665

Michal Smetana (Contact Author)

Charles University ( email )

U Knize 8
Prague, 15800
Czech Republic

Marek Vranka

Prague University of Economics and Business

Czech Republic

Charles University in Prague ( email )

Celetná 13
Praha 1, 116 36
Czech Republic

Ondřej Rosendorf

Charles University in Prague ( email )

Celetná 13
Praha 1, 116 36
Czech Republic

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