Nuclear Energy: The Accuracy of Policy Makers Perceptions of Public Beliefs

Thomas, K., Swaton, E., Fishbein, M., & Otway, H.J. (1979). Nuclear Energy: The Accuracy of Policy Makers Perceptions of Public Beliefs. IIASA Working Paper. IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria: WP-79-004

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The primary purpose of this study was to empirically test how accurate a group of policy makers were in their assessment of the beliefs and attitudes of the public with regard to the use of nuclear energy. The respondents (n=40) were senior Austrian civil servants responsible for energy matters. The questionnaire used was the same as that employed earlier to measure the attitudes and underlying beliefs of the Austrian public (n=224) and the sub-groups (n=50) of this sample most PRO and CON the use of nuclear energy. The policy makers completed this questionnaire twice: once with respect to their own positions and, on the second occasion, in the role of a typical member of the Austrian public who was either PRO or CON the use of nuclear energy. This experimental design also permitted comparisons between the policy makers' own positions and those of the general public.

Public attitudes toward the use of nuclear energy were found, using factor analysis, to be based upon four underlying dimensions of belief: psychological (anxiety-inducing) risks; economic/technical benefits; socio-political implications; and environmental/physical risks. The policy makers' own attitudes were found to be significantly more favourable than those of the total public sample; this was primarily because the policy makers' beliefs about psychological risks made a significantly smaller negative contribution to attitude, and their beliefs about environmental risks made a significantly larger positive contribution.

The policy makers were able to shift their own (personal) responses in the directions indicated by their role-play assignments to accurately reproduce the overall attitudes of the PRO and CON groups on this controversial topic, although there was a tendency to overestimate the positive attitudes of the PRO nuclear public. In terms of the underlying belief dimensions however, there was a significant failure to recognise the extent to which issues of psychological significance contribute negatively to the attitudes of both PRO and CON public groups. The policy makers underestimated the negative value both groups assigned to these risks as well as the extent to which the public believed that nuclear energy would lead to such risks.

Item Type: Monograph (IIASA Working Paper)
Research Programs: Energy Program (ENP)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 01:46
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:09

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