Nuclear energy: The accuracy of policy makers' perceptions of public beliefs

Thomas, K., Swaton, E., Fishbein, M., & Otway, H.J. (1980). Nuclear energy: The accuracy of policy makers' perceptions of public beliefs. Systems Research 25 (5) 332-344. 10.1002/bs.3830250503.

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The primary purpose of this study is to make an empirical test of 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 40 respondents 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 224 persons selected as a stratified sample of the Austrian public and two subsets of this sample, the 48 most PRO and 47 most 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; sociopolitical implications; and environmental/physical risks. The policy makers' own attitudes were found to be significantly more favorable 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 reproduce accurately 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 recognize 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: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Society; Decision making; Nuclear energy; Policy making
Research Programs: Energy Program (ENP)
Bibliographic Reference: Systems Research; 25(5):332-344 (Published online 9 January 2007)
Depositing User: IIASA Import
Date Deposited: 15 Jan 2016 01:47
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 17:09

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