WASHINGTON, D.C. -- More Americans believe the U.N. is doing a poor rather than good job in trying to solve the problems it has had to face, by 57% to 35%. This rating is slightly worse than a year ago, when 50% said the U.N. was doing a poor job, and thus continues a decade-long trend of low public confidence in the U.N.
These results come from the Feb. 6-9 Gallup World Affairs Poll. The U.N. has been struggling to help bring the bloody, three-year Syrian civil war to a close, with the most recent U.N.-sponsored peace talks in Geneva widely seen as a failure, to the point that the U.N. envoy for Syria, Lakhdar Brahimi, publicly apologized to the Syrian people that the peace conference did not yield any progress.
With such intractable conflicts as Syria dogging the U.N., it may not be surprising that many Americans would consider the international body -- originally proposed by U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt and established with strong U.S. support -- ineffective. However, Americans' negative evaluation of the U.N.'s functioning is nothing new. After the U.S. failed to win U.N. support for the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the percentage of Americans who said the U.N. was doing a good job fell 13 points to 37%, and hit a nadir of 26% in 2009. It has failed to climb above 40% since then.
Prior to the Iraq war, Americans' reviews of the international body waxed and waned. Opinions were generally positive in the 1950s and 1960s -- not long after the institution was created -- before falling off in the 1970s, a decade marked by continued war in Vietnam, a war between Israel and several Arab nations, and OPEC's oil embargo of the U.S. American attitudes became more positive in the early 1990s, when the U.N. Security Council maintained a unified front against Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.
The recent decline after the invasion of Iraq in Americans' rating of the U.N. tracks closely with the public's falling satisfaction with the U.S. position in the world. Americans' satisfaction with the nation's position and their positive ratings of the U.N.'s job performance have each not exceeded 50% since 2003, which may suggest that Americans are broadly uncomfortable with both the United States' and the U.N.'s abilities to positively shape world affairs.
Republicans Far More Likely Than Democrats to Give U.N. Poor Ratings
Similar to the pattern in previous years, Republicans are far more likely than Democrats or independents to say the United Nations is doing a poor job. Republicans and independents are much more likely to say the U.N. is doing a poor job than a good job, while Democrats are more evenly divided.
Americans Divided on Role U.N. Should Play
The U.N.'s charter declares that one of its main goals is "to maintain international peace and security," but adults in the U.S. are divided over just how the U.N. should go about this. A plurality (37%) say the U.N. should play a major role, in which the U.N. establishes policies, but individual countries still act separately when they disagree. Another 32% believe the U.N. should play a minor role, with the U.N. serving mostly as a forum for communication between nations, but with no policymaking role. A quarter say the U.N. should play a leading role in which all countries are required to follow the U.N.'s policies.
While attitudes about the U.N.'s role have remained fairly stable over the past half decade, fewer Americans now say the U.N. should play a major role in international affairs than said this in 2001, 37% vs. 49%, respectively.
President John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural address, famously called the U.N. "our last best hope" to preserve world peace, but today most Americans seem less than hopeful. Nearly six in 10 say the U.N. is doing a poor job, in line with attitudes observed over the past decade. While some of this may reflect Americans' frustration with the general state of the world, including their own country's standing in it, the public's negative assessment of the U.N.'s performance is hardly new.
Americans are divided on what role the U.N. should have in international affairs -- a leading, major, or minor one. Such confusion on how much power the U.N. should have may be one reason for its perceived ineffectiveness. The U.N.'s charter is broad, and the media may be less likely to report partial successes such as progress toward achieving some of the Millennium Development Goals than it is to report the U.N.'s role in fostering international peace and security. Whatever the reasons, residents of the United States, a nation that contributes 22% of the U.N.'s budget, feel the international body is doing a poor job.
Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 6-9, 2014, with a random sample of 1,023 adults, aged 18 and older, living in all 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.
For results based on the total sample of national adults, the margin of sampling error is ±4 percentage points at the 95% confidence level.
Interviews are conducted with respondents on landline telephones and cellular phones, with interviews conducted in Spanish for respondents who are primarily Spanish-speaking. Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 50% cellphone respondents and 50% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods. Landline respondents are chosen at random within each household on the basis of which member had the most recent birthday.
Samples are weighted to correct for unequal selection probability, nonresponse, and double coverage of landline and cell users in the two sampling frames. They are also weighted to match the national demographics of gender, age, race, Hispanic ethnicity, education, region, population density, and phone status (cellphone only/landline only/both, and cellphone mostly). Demographic weighting targets are based on the most recent Current Population Survey figures for the aged 18 and older U.S. population. Phone status targets are based on the most recent National Health Interview Survey. Population density targets are based on the most recent U.S. census. All reported margins of sampling error include the computed design effects for weighting.
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.
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