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UN Job Rating Among Americans Higher, but Still Low

UN Job Rating Among Americans Higher, but Still Low

by Jim Norman
Chart: data points are described in article

Story Highlights

  • 38% of Americans say U.N. is doing a good job
  • Job rating is highest since start of Iraq War in 2003
  • Independents much more likely to give good rating than in 2015

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans are slightly more likely than they were a year ago to think the United Nations is doing a good job of trying to solve the problems it faces. The small gain -- from 35% in 2015 to 38% now -- pushes the U.N.'s job rating to its highest level since before it balked at supporting the Iraq War in 2003.

Do you think the United Nations is doing a good job or a poor job in trying to solve the problems it has had to face?

The percentage of Americans judging the U.N.'s work favorably has now risen 12 percentage points since 2009. At that time, 26% of Americans said the U.N. was doing a good job -- the lowest point in the 38 times Gallup has polled on the subject, going back to 1953. This year's slight climb comes after the percentage saying the U.N. was doing a good job stalled at 35% for three consecutive years.

Fourteen years have passed since a majority of U.S. adults have said the U.N. is doing a good job, following a familiar pattern that goes back decades. Fifty-five percent of Americans supported the U.N.'s efforts when the question was first asked in 1953, and 50% did so in 1967. However, the percentage dropped to 44% in 1970, and since then, attitudes about the U.N.'s work have been marked by lengthy stretches of negative ratings. The two exceptions since then were brief periods of majority support around the times of the first Gulf War in 1991 and the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

2015 a Tumultuous Year for the UN

In judging the U.N.'s performance this year, U.S. adults had several major events on which to base their opinions:

  • In July, the U.N. Security Council unanimously approved an agreement designed to limit Iran's nuclear program -- a deal that has not been popular in the United States.
  • In November, the Security Council unanimously approved a resolution calling for action against the Islamic State group. The action came a week after attacks by Islamic extremists killed 130 people in Paris.
  • In December, the United Nations Climate Change Conference produced the Paris Agreement, a global deal on the reduction of climate change reached after 20 years of negotiations on the subject.
  • On Feb. 3, the U.N. suspended peace talks focused on ending Syria's civil war just a few days after they began.

The United Nations' support of the Iran nuclear deal touched on an issue that a majority of Americans opposed, but its action on global warming dealt with a subject that has strong support overall in the U.S. The U.N.'s quick reaction against the Islamic State group after the Paris attacks also mirrored the attitudes of most Americans.

UN Job Rating Improves Most Among Independents

Over the past year, the United Nations' support of the global warming treaty and the Iran nuclear deal drew criticism from Republicans in Congress. Not surprisingly, the percentage of Republicans saying the U.N. is doing a good job fell from 25% in 2015 to 17% now. Nevertheless, the overall U.N. job rating rose because the percentage of independents saying it is doing a good job spiked from 29% to 43%. In doing so, independents -- for the second time in a decade -- moved closer to the Democratic view than to the Republican view. Democrats' opinions of the U.N. showed no significant change in 2016 after improving by 11 percentage points last year.

Meanwhile, the partisan gap between the two parties, after widening from 15 points in 2014 to 27 points last year, now stands at 37 points -- the largest divide since Gallup began asking the question annually in the February World Affairs poll in 2004.

Partisan Gap a Constant in United Nations Job Rating

Bottom Line

Although the United Nations has made incremental advances in the eyes of the American public over the past seven years, only slightly more than a third of Americans think it is doing a good job. Furthermore, the U.N. lost ground among Republicans in the past year, possibly as a result of its support for the Iran nuclear deal and the global warming treaty.

But despite Americans' consistent disapproval of the United Nations since 2003, the American public has indicated again and again that the U.N. has a vital role to play. More than 60% said in 2014 that the U.N. should play a leading or major role in world affairs. In 2013, 58% said that working with the U.N. should be a very important foreign policy goal for the U.S., and 66% said that the U.N. "plays a necessary role in the world today." While the majority of Americans generally have not been happy with the way the United Nations deals with the world's problems, few have wanted to see it fade into oblivion, as did its post-World War I predecessor, the ill-fated League of Nations.

Survey Methods

Results for this Gallup poll are based on telephone interviews conducted Feb. 3-7, 2016, with a random sample of 1,021 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. All reported margins of sampling error include computed design effects for weighting.

Each sample of national adults includes a minimum quota of 60% cellphone respondents and 40% landline respondents, with additional minimum quotas by time zone within region. Landline and cellular telephone numbers are selected using random-digit-dial methods.

View survey methodology, complete question responses and trends.

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