By the margin of 44 to 37 per cent, a plurality of Americans favors the United States building the neutron bomb.
These findings of a Harris Survey of 1,510 adults show support for President Carter's decision to go ahead with the production of an atomic weapon that the Department of Defense has been developing for many years.
The neutron bomb is different from other nuclear weapons in that it minimizes heat and blast, and maximizes radiation. As a result, it can leave talks, structures, fortifications and other equipment relatively unharmed, while killing enemy personnel within a given area.
The sharp public split over whether the neutron bomb should be built is evident in many ways. People on the East and West coasts, for example, oppose the neutron bomb, but hose in the Midwest and South favor it. Young people under 30 are against it, but those 50 and over favor it. Men favor the bomb by a decisive 56 to 32 per cent, but women oppose it by a 43 to 32 per cent. Conservatives support it, while liberals don't.
The American people are also divided over many of the arguments that have been used to justify the bomb, although some positions are more acceptable than others:
A 48-to-21 per cent plurality agrees that the neutron bomb is the most effective defense in Western Europe for NATO against the threat of an attack by the Russians.
By 45-to-34 per cent, a plurality also believes "the neutron bomb is desirable, because it can be limited in its use against troops and not against civilian populations."
By a much narrower margin of 39 to 33 per cent, a plurality agrees that "the neutron bomb is such an effecitve deterreny that it will actually reduce the threat of war in Europe if it is given to NATO to use for its defense.""
Although a plurality comes down in favor of building the neutron bomb, substantial numbers of the American people have real reservations about it:
By 66 to 15 per cent, a sizable majority agrees that the neutron bomb can lead to the use of other nuclear weapons and total destruction.
By 47 to 26 per cent, a plurality also feels that "the neutron bomb will more likely be used by field commanders as a substitute for conventional warfare, and that is wrong."