Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Senate Test Ban Vote Little Noticed, Less Understood

Introduction and Summary

The U.S. Senate’s rejection of the underground nuclear test ban treaty has gone unnoticed by half of the public, and only one-in-ten Americans say they have heard a lot about why some in the Senate backed the treaty, while others opposed it. Just about half of respondents (49%) polled in a Pew Research Center survey conducted October 15-19, 1999, were at all aware of the vote, and only 21% say they have heard a lot about it. Small percentages report hearing a lot (9%), or even something (29%) about reasons behind the vote.

Yet most Americans say it is very important to know what the presidential candidates have to say about the treaty. In fact only the issue of how to provide health insurance for the uninsured evokes significantly more public interest as a potential campaign issue in nationwide Center surveys. (See box).

The new poll found a 47% to 26% plurality of all respondents opposing the Senate vote to reject the test ban treaty. However, people who have heard at least something about why the senators voted as they did are somewhat more supportive of the vote (35% good thing, 49% bad thing) than are those who have not heard the senators’ reasons (21% to 45%).

Overall, men are more aware of the Senate’s action on the treaty than women — 56% of men have heard at least something about the vote and 44% have heard about the reasons why senators voted for or against the treaty. By comparison, just 43% of women have heard that the treaty was rejected, and fewer than one-in-three (32%) have heard anything about the reasons for voting one way or the other.

Reaction to the vote is less positive among women than men (21% vs. 32%, respectively, say that rejecting the treaty was good). Opinion over the test ban vote splits along party lines. Among Democrats, a 57% majority opposes the vote and just 18% supports it, with opposition running nearly two-to-one among Independents (47% vs. 26%). By contrast, Republicans show more support for the GOP-led Senate decision, but are nonetheless divided — 37% say it was a good thing and 37% say it was a bad thing.

Interest in hearing presidential candidates discuss their positions on U.S. participation in a test ban treaty is particularly high among Democrats, 65% of whom think it is very important to hear the candidates’ stands on the issue. Half of Republicans and Independents agree. Despite this fact, fewer Democrats (17%) than Republicans (28%) have heard a lot about the Senate vote.

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