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IPS UN: Inside the Glasshouse

United Nations Still Popular in Most Countries

Vehicles of the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) roll past during a ceremony marking the transition of Force Commanders in the Golan Heights, 2010. Credit: UN Photo/Arnold Felfer

WASHINGTON, Sep 18 2013 (IPS) - On the eve of the 68th session of the United Nations General Assembly, a newly released survey of 39 countries shows that the world body remains relatively popular around the globe.

According to the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project (GAP), clear majorities of respondents in 22 of the surveyed countries said they hold a favourable view of the U.N., as did pluralities in an additional six countries.

The median positive rating for the U.N. across the 39 countries was 58 percent, compared to 27 percent with negative views.

The survey also found that view of the world body tended to be significantly more favourable among younger adults than older respondents in about half of the countries that were polled. The generational differences were most pronounced in the U.S., Canada, and Turkey.

The same held true with respect to educational level. More highly educated respondents were significantly more positive about the U.N. than less-educated respondents, particularly in Turkey, Japan, Pakistan, and Canada, according to GAP.

Surprisingly, men tended to have more favourable views of the U.N. than women in a number of countries, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and East Asia, but also in Brazil and Pakistan, according to Bruce Stokes, a top GAP analyst.

He noted that women in these countries were also more likely to decline to answer the question on the grounds that they “don’t know”. In Pakistan, for example, nearly 80 percent of women answered “don’t know” to the question; in Uganda, 42 percent declined to answer for that reason.

“There’s no way to know why that is,” Stokes told IPS. “It may be that they indeed are less likely to know more about the U.N. [than their male counterparts], but it suggests that the U.N. may have a problem with women in these countries.”

Positive feelings toward the world body, which will see a cascade of world leaders addressing the General Assembly over the next two weeks, are strongest in East and Southeast Asia, followed by sub-Saharan Africa, according to GAP, which conducted its latest in its annual series of global surveys between March and May this year.

However, a 45-percent plurality of respondents in China – one of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and the only one from Asia – recorded an unfavourable view of the U.N., while only 39 percent had a positive impression overall. Four years ago, the view was substantially more favourable: 55 percent of respondents held a positive view, while only 32 percent said they had a negative impression.

And in Japan, favourable views only slightly outnumbered unfavourable ones – by a 45-to-40 percent margin. The differential only two years ago was 61-27 percent.

The region with by far the most negative opinion of the U.N., however, was the Greater Middle East. Israel recorded the highest percentage of respondents who said they had unfavourable views of the U.N. – 70 percent. That climbed to 75 percent among Jewish Israelis.

But residents of the Palestinian West Bank and Gaza strip were almost as negative – 69 percent overall said they had unfavourable views of the world body, as did majorities in Jordan (61 percent), Turkey (56 percent), Egypt (52 percent), and Pakistan, where a plurality described their views as unfavourable, and 62 percent declined to answer the question or said they didn’t know.

“It’s not because the public doesn’t like the objectives of the U.N. or its purpose.” noted Steven Kull of the University of Maryland’s Programme on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) and, about the negative views in the predominantly Muslim countries of the region.

“They think it’s not living up to that purpose, and, as an example, they point to the failure to follow through on U.N. Security Council resolutions 224 and 338 [to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict] in promoting international justice,” according to Kull, who has designed and overseen a number of in-depth surveys and analyses on international public opinion.

“And they see the U.S. as able to corral the U.N. Security Council into serving its ends.”

Nearly 38,000 people in the 39 countries took part in the survey, a massive undertaking that included in-depth interviews on scores of questions, the specific results of which have been and will continue to be released by GAP over a period of months.

In Asia, South Korea, home to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, was the most favourable of all 39 countries. Eighty-four percent of its respondents reported a positive view. It was followed closely by 82 percent favourable responses in both Indonesia and the Philippines.

Compared to the 2007 GAP results, the latest poll showed significant increases in favourable opinions in Argentina (+11 percent), and both South Korea and the U.S. (+10 percent). On the other hand, the greatest declines in favourable opinions were found in both China and Spain (-13 percent), Ghana and Kenya (-12 percent), Israel (-11 percent), and Mexico (-9 percent).

Kull noted that the implications of such a survey are not easy to assess, in part because it’s not clear whether the respondents is referring to the “ideal” of an institution like the U.N. or its actual performance.

“There’s frustration that the institution isn’t working as many people think it should, and that creates a negative feeling,” he told IPS.

“But there’s really no place in the world where you don’t find a majority of people who think that it’s a good idea to have a multilateral institution to further international law and cooperation.

“Overall,” he said of the latest results, “it’s still a pretty solid foundation of support, given the frustration over its performance.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at

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