Q. Li, M. Fuhrmann, B.R. Early, A. Vedlitz, “Preferences, Knowledge, and Citizen Assessments of the Terrorism Risks of Nuclear Power”, Review of Policy Research, 29, 2 (2012).
How does the American public assess risk when it comes to national security issues? This paper addresses this question by analyzing variation in citizen probability assessments of the terrorism risk of nuclear power plants. Drawing on the literature on how motivated reasoning, selective information processing, and domain-specific knowledge influence public opinion, we argue that heterogeneous issue preferences and knowledge of nuclear energy and homeland security have important explanatory power. Using original data from a unique 2009 national survey in the United States, we show that Americans are divided in their probability assessments of the terrorism risk of nuclear power plants. Consistent with our theoretical expectations, individuals who support using nuclear power to meet rising energy demands, who are generally less concerned with terrorism, or who are more knowledgeable about terrorism and nuclear security tend to provide lower assessments of the likelihood that nuclear power plants increase terrorist attacks, and vice versa. The findings have implications for the literature on public opinion, risk assessment, energy policy and planning, and homeland security.