How worried are Britons about the prospect of nuclear attacks?

Patrick EnglishAssociate Director
March 02, 2022, 1:01 PM GMT+0

Fears are high, but far fewer see such attacks as likely

With western nations gathering together to hit Russia with further economic sanctions and supply arms and aid to Ukraine, Russian president Vladimir Putin announced on Monday that he was putting the country’s nuclear force on high alert – a clear message to the West to back off.

Now, as discussion builds around the prospect of NATO enforcing a ‘no fly zone’ in Ukraine, many have warned that any such direct intervention by the West would result in a full-blown war with Russia, and with it the potential to escalate into a nuclear conflict.

A new YouGov survey asks the public how concerned they are about the prospect of a nuclear attack coming from Russia, and how likely they deem such an event.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, three quarters (76%) of the public are “very” concerned (39%) or “fairly concerned” (37%) about the potential of Putin launching nuclear weaponry. Just one-in-five (18%) are not very concerned or completely unconcerned.

While a majority of all groups do express concern, levels of worry are much greater among women (83%) than men (67%), and among older people (83% of the over 65s) than those who are younger (65% among 18-24 year olds). We regularly find significant differences of opinion between genders on the nuclear issue, and the age gap will partially reflect differing levels of experiences and memories of the Cold War (which, of course, the youngest Britons won’t have at all).

However, while Britons are very much concerned about the prospect of nuclear attacks, they do not tend to think one is likely to happen.

By a margin of 42%-33%, we found the public think that it is “unlikely” Russia would launch a nuclear attack against the West. Only 10% see a strike as “very likely”, but likewise only 12% see it as “very unlikely”. A quarter (25%) say that they don’t know one way or the other. Unlike with the previous question, we do not tend to see any differences across political or socio-demographic groups regarding the likelihood of a nuclear strike.

See full results here

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