United States - This is not a drill

Ipsos | Almanac | USA

When the Cold War ended nearly three decades ago, we believed that the danger of nuclear annihilation had disappeared – or was at least greatly diminished.

Recent events, however, have invoked memories of that period. On October 4, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services purchased $290 million in supplies of the drug Nplate from Amgen Inc. Nplate is a drug that can be used to treat blood cell injuries following radiological and nuclear emergencies.

That same week, U.S. President Joe Biden said the threat by Russian President Vladimir Putin to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine is bringing the world closer to "Armageddon" than at any time since the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Ipsos | Almanac | USA


The growing fear of a nuclear conflict follows a long period of “cave syndrome” which left many Americans with what researchers are now identifying as periods of post-COVID anxiety. While nearly three in five Americans (59%) support the U.S. sending aid to Ukraine, an equal share (58%) are afraid the U.S. is headed toward nuclear war with Russia, according to Reuters/Ipsos polling. Adding to the feelings of uncertainty, of course, is inflation, and Americans’ worries of not being able to put food on their tables or keep a roof over their heads.

Inflation is currently the number one concern for Americans, gaining a 40-point lead over COVID since summer, and a rare bipartisan issue which they want lawmakers to prioritize. This is true across income levels and political affiliations.

The percentage of Americans who are saving has dropped below 50% for the first time in years. Consumer confidence hovers around its lowest levels in more than a year for all G7 countries. Financial health in the U.S. is approaching a net negative position, meaning more people are struggling/sinking than thriving/existing. This combination of global upheaval, post-COVID trauma and financial concerns is uncharted territory for a nation that has enjoyed decades of prosperity and relative harmony. 

It has taken a toll on the country’s mental health, which has become a national crisis. Americans outpace global levels of worry about mental health by 15 points.

Amid nuclear warnings, economic fears and other grim news, I had a flashback to my own childhood during the end of the Cold War era. As a young nerd, one of my favorite movies was WarGames. In the 1983 film, a military supercomputer is given control of the American arsenal. Thinking it is conducting an exercise, the computer prepares to launch actual missiles — until it comes to understand the global devastation it would inflict. “A strange game” it concludes. “The only winning move is not to play.”

Another memory of mine from the late Cold War era: Sting’s 1985 song “Russians,” which is still one of my favorites. In it he expresses the same wish many Americans have today: "I hope the Russians love their children too”.

This combination of global upheaval, post-COVID trauma and financial concerns is uncharted territory for a nation that has enjoyed decades of prosperity and relative harmony.

In recent years, it has become clear to researchers how misleading it can be to look at Americans only as consumers when predicting their behaviors. It is their fears, their aspirations as professionals, their physical and mental health struggles, their expectations as citizens and the complex interdependencies among each dimension that will determine their future behaviors as humans, in their beautiful complexity.

Lorenzo Larini