What young Brits think about nuclear weapons

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In February 2014 we kicked off a year-long national debate on nuclear weapons by surveying 4,207 adults aged 18+ (including 1,108 aged 18-35) across the UK and asking them 10 questions about nuclear weapons. The aim of this research was to:

  • Find out more about people’s attitudes to nuclear weapons and their knowledge surrounding Britain’s nuclear weapons system, Trident, ahead of the government’s decision on whether to renew the system – due to be made in 2016.
  • Identify differences in knowledge and opinion among age groups, particularly between those who have grown up since the Cold War (aged 18-35 year olds) and older voters (aged 36+).

The research highlights that UK adults aged 18-35:

Tend to oppose nuclear weapons and the like-for-like renewal of Trident:

  • MR infographic launch 6Only 19% believe the UK nuclear weapon system should be renewed to maintain its current size and capacity, compared to a third (33%) of 36+ year olds
  • 51% agree that the UK nuclear weapon system should be disbanded or reduced in size and capacity
  • More than half (54%) think nuclear weapons for defence purposes are too expensive for governments to maintain
  • 47% disagree that nuclear weapons protect the countries which possess them from modern day threats such as terrorism, only 38% agree

Are not engaged with the debate on nuclear weapons: MR Infographic launch 2

  • Only 6% believe spending on defence should be the government’s priority over the next 10 years
  • When asked about the current situation regarding nuclear weapons in the UK, almost a third (28%) said they didn’t know
  • Almost half (45%) didn’t know whether or not the UK government is legally bound to work towards disarmament under the Non-Proliferation Treaty
  • A third (34%) believe renewing Trident is going to cost up to £5 billion. It is actually estimated to cost up to £100 billion.

Our Young Ambassadors responded to the findings by launching Talking Trident, a national debate to raise awareness of the issues surrounding defence and Trident renewal ahead of the Main Gate decision in 2016. Following this debate they are now calling on the government to ensure that people’s views are heard on this issue and that information about these weapons is made more inclusive and transparent.

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The 10 questions we asked

1. Which, if any, of the following areas do you think the government should prioritise in terms of providing funding over the next 10 years. Please select up to three options.

a)     Health and social care
b)     Crime
c)     The economy (including tackling unemployment and poverty)
d)     Education
e)     Housing
a)     Social security (e.g. benefits, pension payments)
f)      Defence (e.g. army, armaments)
g)     Immigration
h)     None of these [excl.]

2. We are interested in understanding your attitudes towards nuclear weapons as part of a countries defence policies. To what extent do you agree with the following statements? Please select only one answer per row. 

Strongly agree / Tend to agree / Tend to disagree / Strongly disagree / Don’t know

a) Nuclear weapons give greater military power to the countries which possess them
b) Nuclear weapons protect the countries which possess them from modern day threats such as terrorism
c) I would feel uncomfortable living within 20 miles of a nuclear weapons base
d) Nuclear weapons for defence purposes are too expensive for governments to maintain
e) Nuclear weapons should not be part of a country’s defence system

3. To what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements about nuclear weapons and security and stability in the world? Please select only one answer per row. 

Strongly agree / Tend to agree / Tend to disagree / Strongly disagree / Don’t know

a) If one country possesses nuclear weapons, this encourages other countries to invest in them
b) Countries which possess nuclear weapons are a threat to international security
c) The possession of nuclear weapons by some countries acts as a deterrent against nuclear war
d) There should be a nuclear convention banning nuclear weapons
e) There is nothing inherently wrong with countries possessing nuclear weapons

4. Of the 196 countries in the world, how many do you think currently possess nuclear weapons? Please select only one.

a)     None
b)     Between 1 and 10
c)     Between 11 and 20
d)     Between 21 and 30
e)     Between 31 and 40
f)      Between 41 and 50
g)     Between 51 and 100
h)     Between 101 and 150
i)      More than 150
j)      Don’t know

5. Thinking about the current situation regarding nuclear weapon in the UK, which, if any, of following statements do you think is correct? Please select only one. 

a) The UK has nuclear weapons, and the government is currently deciding whether to replace these or not
b) The UK has nuclear weapons, and the government is planning to replace these
c) The UK has nuclear weapons, and the government has no plans to replace these
d) The UK has nuclear weapons, but the government is planning to undertake disarmament
e) The UK does not possess nuclear weapons, but the government is planning to build an arsenal of these
f) The UK does not possess nuclear weapons, and the government has no plans to build an arsenal of these
g) Don’t know

The UK has a nuclear weapon system called Trident, which replaced our previous system in the 1990s. Trident consists of four submarines containing missiles and warheads. One submarine patrols the sea at all times. The current generation of submarines will begin to end their working lives sometime in the 2020s.

6. After reading the explanation above, what do you think the UK government should be doing with regards to its current nuclear weapon system? Please select only one.

a) The UK nuclear weapon system should be disbanded and disarmament should take place
b) The UK nuclear weapon system should be renewed, but reduced in size and capacity
c) The UK nuclear weapon system should be renewed to maintain its current size and capacity
d) The UK nuclear weapon system should be renewed and expanded in size and capacity
e) Don’t know

7. The UK government is currently deciding whether to renew its nuclear weapon system. How much do you think this is going to cost? Please select only one.

a)     Up to £100 million
b)     From £100 million up to £1 billion
c)     From £1 billion up to £5 billion
d)     From £5 billion up to £25 billion
e)     From £25 billion up to £50 billion
f)      From £50 billion up to £100 billion
g)     Over £100 billion
h)     Don’t know

8. Why do you think the UK government is in possession of nuclear weapons? Please select up to three options.

a)     To ensure that the UK is an international military power
b)     To make nuclear war less likely
c)     To protect the UK from modern day threats such as terrorism
d)     It is an inheritance from previous governments
e)     Because of public support
f)      To make UK politicians feel more politically important internationally
g)     To discourage other countries from having nuclear weapons
h)     Other (please specify)
i)      Don’t know [excl.]

9. Thinking about the current nuclear weapon system in the UK, to what extent do you agree or disagree with the following statements? Please select only one answer per row.

Strongly agree / Tend to agree / Tend to disagree / Strongly disagree / Don’t know

a) The UK would lose its membership of NATO if it did not have nuclear weapons
b) According to the Non-Proliferation Treaty that the UK signed up to, the government is legally bound to work towards nuclear disarmament
c) The UK would lose its seat on the UN Security Council if it did not have nuclear weapons

10. The estimated lifetime cost to renew the UK’s nuclear weapon system is £100 billion (including costs for replacing the current nuclear weapon system and for its maintenance). Given this information, to what extent, do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “The cost of renewing the UK’s current nuclear weapon system offers good value for money in terms of defence”? Please select only one answer. 

a)     Strongly agree
b)     Tend to agree
c)     Tend to disagree
d)     Strongly disagree
e)     Don’t know

Download the full table of research results.

See the press notice: Young voters more likely to oppose renewal of Trident.

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