PRINCETON, NJ -- Americans' rating of the United Nations has gone from bad to worse in recent years, and now the percentage saying the organization is doing a "good job" in its role has reached a record low 27%.
Gallup's annual World Affairs survey, updated Feb. 11-14, finds 65% of the public saying the United Nations is doing a poor job. Last year's ratings, from February 2007, were similar to this year's, with 29% saying "good job" and 66% "poor job."
The last time Gallup found a majority of Americans saying the United Nations was doing a good job was in February 2002, when the figure was 58%. In fact, from May 2000 to February 2002, both before and after 9/11, the United Nations received some of its best ratings from the American people -- with a majority of Americans consistently applauding its efforts.
Americans' views of the United Nations turned sharply negative in 2003 when the organization rebuffed the United States' request for authorization of the use of military force in Iraq. Its "good" rating fell from 50% in January 2003 to 37% in March 2003, and -- with ongoing bad publicity surrounding U.N. mismanagement of the Iraqi Oil for Food program, sexual abuse charges against U.N. peacekeepers in Africa, and various financial corruption scandals -- this view has continued to sink.
The closer Americans say they follow news about world affairs, the less likely they are to praise the job the United Nations is doing. Only 18% of those who follow the news very closely say the United Nations is doing a good job, compared with 28% of those following it somewhat closely, and 36% not following it closely.
Most Still Want an Active United Nations
Despite its significant image problems, the United Nations continues to earn Americans' support for continuing as a major policy-making body.
Given three options for what kind of role the United Nations should play in world affairs, the plurality of Americans (42%) say it should play a major policy-making role, but where individual countries can still act separately when they disagree with it. An additional 26% say the United Nations should play the leading role where all countries are required to follow its policies.
Only 27% of Americans say it should play a minor role, serving primarily as a forum for communication among nations with no policy-making role. Two percent volunteer that they believe the United Nations should not exist.
Except for a dip in February 2007, the percentage wanting to minimize the United Nation's role, attitudes on this question have varied little over the past five years. Americans were slightly less likely to favor a leading role for the United Nations when Gallup first asked the question in 2001 than they are this year (19% vs. 26%).
U.N. Attitudes Not Highly Partisan
Republicans are more negative than Democrats are in their views of the United Nations, but the differences are relatively modest. A majority of both partisan groups say the United Nations is doing a poor job this year, but the percentage saying it is doing a good job is about twice as high among Democrats as among Republicans, 38% vs. 18%.
Whereas the plurality of Democrats (44%) favor a major policy-making role for the United Nations, Republicans are divided between assigning it a major role (37%) versus a minor or no role (40%).
Results are based on telephone interviews with 1,007 national adults, aged 18 and older, conducted Feb. 11-14, 2008. For results based on the total sample of national adults, one can say with 95% confidence that the maximum margin of sampling error is ±3 percentage points.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones (for respondents with a landline telephone) and cellular phones (for respondents who are cell phone only).
In addition to sampling error, question wording and practical difficulties in conducting surveys can introduce error or bias into the findings of public opinion polls.