Attitudes to nuclear defence: an investigation of processes of change in elite and non-elite belief systems

L Coward, Tennessee State University


This thesis is a study of changes in attitude towards nuclear defence. It examines the process of change at the individual and social level, making use of opinion polls and attitudes expressed in a less restricted way through interviews, student essays and personal accounts. A model of attitude change is proposed which suggests that attitude change amongst elites is a more difficult process than amongst non-elites, suggesting a direction for further research. The extent of existing knowledge about attitudes towards nuclear defence and allied issues is first established by reviewing the public opinion polls over the last forty years. This survey reveals patterns of change that take the form of rapid and transient changes caused by specific events and slower waves of change of a more enduring nature. Theories of attitude change at the social level are examined in academic literature in order to understand these long-term changes, followed by a study of attitude change at the individual level. Following this I look at examples of attitude change amongst a small sample of `elites', from which a model of attitude change begins to form. A study of the content of pro- and anti-nuclear belief systems amongst a large student sample clarifies the context and pervasive nature of mainstream ideology. A brief chapter is included on mathematical formulae and mapping techniques, which are largely rejected as not being a positive contribution to understanding attitudes. In the final stages the model of attitude change put forward is tested against a small group of non-elites which establishes the differences between the processes of change taking place a_ongst elites and non-elites. Finally, detailed analysis of specially commissioned questions in an opinion poll provides statistical support for the model proposed and suggestions are made for further research concentrating on `elite' attitude change.

Subject Area

Military history

Recommended Citation

L Coward, "Attitudes to nuclear defence: an investigation of processes of change in elite and non-elite belief systems" (1987). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAIU007537.