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What Americans (Really) Believe About Chemical Weapons

March 02, 2022
Joshua Schwartz, Jonathan Chu, et al.


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Joshua Schwartz, a Fellow at Harvard University, Jonathan Chu, Assistant Professor of international affairs at the National University of Singapore, and Christopher Blair, PhD Candidate at the University of Pennsylvania, analyze public support for the use of chemical weapons.

The norm against the use of chemical weapons has not had a good decade. The Syrian government has repeatedly used chemical weapons against its own people, and the Russian government has used deadly nerve agents to poison political opponents around the world. But at least the norm is strong in democracies like the United States—right? On the surface, it does appear to be strong. For example, the US Army recently announced that it has almost completed destruction of the United States’ chemical weapons stockpile ahead of a September 2023 deadline set by the Chemical Weapons Convention. But public actions like these may mask waning private commitment to the non-use norm.

One of the primary ways to measure the strength of norms among the general public­—like norms in support of democracy—is to directly ask people about their attitudes in surveys or polls. The problem with this approach is that sometimes people conceal their true beliefs when asked directly. People are particularly likely to hide opinions that might be embarrassing or unpopular. For instance, sexist and racist Americans often lie about their beliefs on direct-question surveys.

In a new peer-reviewed study, we show that a significant proportion of the American public also hides their private support for chemical weapons use.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.