Council on Foreign Relations Publishes “Public Opinion on Global Issues”

by Peggy McGuinness

The just-released CFR web publication “Public Opinion on Global Issues” offers one-stop shopping for those looking for public opinion surveys across a range of transnational policy issues.  The overview explains how CFR and the Univ. of Maryland consolidated all publicly available opinion polls and provides a few significant findings:

The international community confronts a daunting array of transnational threats and challenges that no country can hope to resolve alone. As political leaders in the United States and abroad grapple with this global agenda and seek to forge international partnerships in addressing it, for a variety of reasons they must consider the opinions of those from whom they represent. But what, precisely, do citizens in the United States and abroad think about such matters?

To answer this question, the International Institutions and Global Governance program has produced Public Opinion on Global Issues, a comprehensive digest of existing polling data on U.S. and global public attitudes on the world’s most pressing challenges — and the institutions designed to address them. Developed in partnership with the Program on International Policy Attitudes at the University of Maryland, the digest consolidates global and U.S. public opinion across ten major issue areas: elements of world order, international institutions, violent conflict, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, climate change, energy security, the global economy, economic development, and human rights.


What We Found


Views on World Order: Publics around the world — including in the United States — are strongly internationalist in orientation. They believe that global challenges are simply too complex and daunting to be addressed by unilateral or even regional means. In every country polled, most people support a global system based on the rule of law, international treaties, and robust multilateral institutions. They believe their own government is obliged to abide by international law, even when doing so is at odds with its perceived national interest. Large majorities, including among Americans, reject a hegemonic role for the United States, but do want the United States to participate in multilateral efforts to address international issues.

The United Nations: Globally, national publics believe that the United Nations plays a positive international role, although they are often disappointed by the UN’s actual performance and support its reform. Majorities in most countries — including the United States — regard the UN Security Council as the premier institution for conferring legitimacy on the use of armed force. Publics around the world believe the UN Security Council has not only the right but also the responsibility to prevent or end gross human rights abuses such as genocide. Majorities or pluralities in all nations polled want the UN to actively promote human rights — and they reject the argument that this would be improper interference in sovereign affairs. There is strong popular support for adding new permanent members to the Security Council and (even among publics of most permanent members) for giving the Council the power to override a veto by a permanent member.

I have been a past user and fan of the U Maryland PIPA data sets, and this comprehensive digest is very useful indeed (and the kind of thing CFR should be doing more of to reach out to students and academics).  Click here, for example, to see a summary of global opinion on climate change, and here, to see U.S. public opinion on climate change.

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