More than 1 in 3 Americans would back a pre-emptive nuclear strike on North Korea if the nation tested a missile capable of reaching the U.S., according to a poll conducted by YouGov and the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
Researchers polled 3,000 Americans and found that while the majority would not support such a strike, nearly 1 in 3 would.
“For many of these hawks, support for an attack, even in a preventive war, does not significantly decrease when the story says that the United States would use nuclear weapons that are expected to kill 1 million North Korean civilians,” researchers wrote.
Researchers presented respondents with a fictional news item about a long-range missile test and gave them a choice of “preferred” U.S. military responses and probabilities the attack would prevent North Korea from retaliating.
The poll also found that while only 33 percent of respondents would prefer a nuclear strike that killed as many as 15,000 civilians, 50 percent would approve if one actually occurred.
Fewer respondents said they would approve such a strike if it only had a 50-50 chance of preventing retaliation, according to the survey, which researchers said “should remind Washington decision-makers that public support for any U.S. first strike is likely to diminish greatly if the attack fails and large numbers of Americans are killed.”
A potential strike was more popular among respondents who identified as Republicans in general and supporters of President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE in particular, as well as supporters of the death penalty, the latter of whose support for a strike rose in proportion with the expected fatalities.
The authors wrote the results demonstrate “how poorly informed the public is about nuclear weapons, missile defense, and North Korea” and indicate “some Americans lack any sense of a nuclear taboo, and some appear to hold a kind of atomic attraction.”
The U.S. is the only nation ever to use nuclear weapons during the course of a war, with the nuclear bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima at the end of World War II killing around 200,000.
The survey was conducted online in February.