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Limited expectations for nuclear summit

At least one group has muted expectations for the Nuclear Security Summit that kicks off Monday afternoon in Washington: the American public.

A majority of Americans in a new Washington Post-ABC News poll lack confidence that this week's meeting of 47 world leaders will make it harder for terrorists to obtain the materials to make nuclear weapons.

Overall, 40 percent of those polled are convinced the negotiations will result in tighter controls, and 56 percent are not so or not at all confident. Moreover, four times as many express zero confidence in the summit than are sure of its success.

One in eight (12 percent) call the possibility that terrorists could get a hold of nuclear weapons to be the single biggest threat the world faces, with another 36 percent saying it's one of the most significant risks today.

There's general cross-party agreement on the size of the potential nuclear hazard, but there's a large expectations gap when it comes to the summit. Most Democrats are confident the unprecedented gathering of world leaders on the subject will yield tougher rules; majorities of Republicans and independents disagree. But even among Democrats, just one in eight are "very confident" in such a result.

              -- Confident ---- --- Not Confident ---  No
              NET Very Somewhat NET Not so Not at all  opin.
All adults    40    7    33     56     27        28     4

Democrats     54   12    42     42     27        15     4
Repulicans    30    3    27     68     30        38     2
Independents  37    8    29     60     29        32     3

Q. Threats in the world could include terrorists using conventional weapons, or using biological, chemical or nuclear weapons, or conflicts among nations with nuclear weapons.

Thinking about these and other threats, where would you put the possibility that terrorists could obtain a nuclear weapon - would you call it the single biggest threat the world faces, one of the biggest threats, a major threat but not one of the biggest ones, or less of a threat than that?


Q. Representatives of 47 countries are meeting in Washington next week to discuss greater controls to try to keep terrorists from obtaining materials to produce nuclear weapons.

How confident are you that this effort will result in better controls on these materials - very confident, somewhat confident, not so confident or not confident at all?

Confident NET: 40; Not confident NET: 56


SOURCE: Washington Post-ABC News poll conducted by telephone Apr. 7-11, 2010 among a random national sample of 1,032 adults, including landline and cellphone only respondents. Interviews were conducted in English and Spanish. Results have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points. Sampling, data collection and tabulation by Social Science Research Solutions at ICR of Media, Pa.

By Jon Cohen  |  April 12, 2010; 2:00 PM ET
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