Image: Emblem of the United Nations - Photo: 2013

Asians Love the UN Unlovable To Others

By J C Suresh | IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

TORONTO (IDN) – The United Nations finds great favour with publics in Asia-Pacific and enjoys considerable backing in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America but has the lowest rating in the Middle East, according to a new survey, which also finds that the UN is generally liked in Europe and relishes robust support in Canada and the U.S.

The survey, conducted before Syria’s alleged chemical weapons attack and the proposed UN role in eliminating Syria’s chemical weapons stockpiles, was carried out by the Pew Research Center’s Global Attitudes Project (GAP) in 39 countries among 37,653 respondents from March 2 to May 1, 2013. Results for the survey are based on telephone and face-to-face interviews conducted under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International.

The survey report was published on September 17, to coincide with the opening of the 68th General Assembly session of the world body, emphasizing that publics around the world continue to have a positive impression of the international organization.

“The UN receives its highest ratings from publics in the Asia-Pacific, with more than eight-in-ten in South Korea (84%), Indonesia (82%) and the Philippines (82%) looking favorably toward the international body. Majorities in Australia (63%) and Malaysia (60%) also see the UN in a positive light,” says the survey report.

The highest ranking in South Korea apparently is attributable to the fact that the current UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon hails from that country.

However, says the survey report, opinion is more divided in the region’s top two economic powers – only 45% in Japan and 39% in China see the UN favourably. In China, which – along with the U.S., Russia, Britain and France – is also one of the five permanent Security Council members, support for the international body has tumbled 13 percentage points since 2007. In Pakistan, a majority (61%) of respondents said they did not have any opinion about the UN.

Not so the publics in sub-Saharan Africa. Fifty percent or even more in every sub-Saharan African country surveyed have a favourable view of the UN. The good news is that about three-quarters in Kenya (76%) and Ghana (73%), nearly seven-in-ten Senegalese (70%) and Nigerians (69%) like the UN, but the percentage is down 12 points in Kenya and Ghana since 2007. This and the fact that only half of the respondents in South Africa (51%) support the UN should prompt rethinking.

In Latin America, the UN is viewed generally positive, with majorities in Brazil (61%), El Salvador (60%) and Chile (56%) sharing a favourable opinion of the world body of nations. Support for the UN is lower in the other Latin American countries surveyed, but pluralities in Mexico and Venezuela still indicate a positive assessment.

Lowest support in the Middle East

For reasons that lie on hand, UN support is lowest in the Middle East where the world body has not succeeded in breaking through the Gordian knots impeding any advance toward normalization of relations. Majorities in Israel (70%), the Palestinian territories (69%), Jordan (61%) and Turkey (56%) all give the UN negative marks.

Going into details, the survey report says that three-quarters of Israeli Jews have an unfavourable opinion of the UN but Israeli Arabs have a more positive view of the preeminent international organization (53% favourable vs. 43% unfavourable). Among all Israelis, favourable ratings for the UN are down 11 points since 2007.

In the Palestinian territories, equal numbers of respondents in the West Bank (67%) and Gaza Strip (69%) have an unfavourable view of the international body.

Nearly six-in-ten in Lebanon (59%) see the international peacekeeping entity favourably, but there is a sectarian divide. Majorities of Lebanese Christians (62%) and Sunni Muslims (76%) give the UN a positive assessment, while only 29% of Lebanese Shia agree.

Nearer home – UN is headquartered in New York City – nearly six-in-ten Americans have a favourable opinion of the UN. In fact, support for the world body has increased since the 2008 election of Barack Obama. However, says the survey report, there is “a partisan divide” in views of the multilateral institution, with stronger support from Democrats and independents than from Republicans.

Approximately six-in-ten Canadians (62%) and U.S. nationals (58%) hold a positive opinion toward the UN. And support is up among Americans since 2007 (+10 percentage points), with the largest increase coming in 2009.

The UN is generally liked in Europe, with six-in-ten or more in Italy, Germany, Britain, Poland, France and the Czech Republic expressing positive sentiments, say the survey report. However, in Spain, only half share these opinions and support has fallen 13 percentage points since 2007. In Greece, 58% have an unfavourable view of the international body.

In Russia, one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, 53% support the UN, while only 28% have an unfavourable view.

Clear majorities in 22 of the 39 countries surveyed say they have a favourable view of the UN, including thumbs-up from Security Council permanent members Britain, France and the U.S. Ratings for the UN are on balance favourable in Russia. But the Chinese are divided in their opinion. However, views trend negatively in key Middle Eastern publics, including Israel, the Palestinian territories, Jordan and Turkey.

Overall, a median of 58% across the 39 countries surveyed express favorable views of the UN, with just 27% holding an unfavourable opinion. South Koreans express the highest support (84%). Ban Ki-moon, who heads the UN, is South Korean. Meanwhile, roughly eight-in-ten Indonesians and Filipinos approve of the international body. Support is also high in Africa, and most of Europe and Latin America.

Across many of the countries surveyed, young people are more positive toward the international body than older people. And in roughly half of the countries, those with a college degree or higher incomes tend to have a rosier view of the UN.

While 58% of Americans have a positive opinion of the UN, support varies considerably by political party. As a result, a strong majority of Democrats (72%) in the U.S. have a favourable view of the international body, while a smaller 60%-majority of independents agree. Meanwhile, support among Republicans trails at 41% and has dropped ten percentage points since 2011.

The survey report unveils an interesting phenomenon: in a few European countries, it is the political right more than the left that sees the UN most favourably. For example, two-thirds of French respondents on the right end of the spectrum have a positive opinion of the UN while only 56% on the left share the same view. Similar gaps occur in Spain (+11 right-left gap) and Greece (+12).

Overall, majorities or pluralities in 26 of the 39 nations surveyed express a favourable opinion of the UN. And in only five nations does a majority of the public hold a negative view of the institution.

Elite support

Equally remarkable is that young, educated and higher income sections of the society the world over have a favourable view of the UN. Says the survey report: “While overall evaluations of the UN are high, there is even greater support among the younger generation, those with a college degree, and respondents with higher incomes.”

For example, 73% of U.S. nationals ages 18-to-29 years old have a positive opinion of the UN, while only about half (49%) of those ages 50 and over agree, a 24-point age gap. Large generational differences also abound in Canada, Turkey, Senegal, France, Australia, Lebanon, Mexico and Spain. Overall, there are significant age gaps in 18 of the 39 countries surveyed.

A similar pattern is seen when looking at educational attainment. For example, while only 21% of Turks with no college degree have a favourable opinion of the UN, 45% of those Turks with a college degree see the UN positively. In 12 countries, respondents with a college education are more likely than those without a college degree to have a favourable view of the UN.

There are also gaps between high income and low income respondents on UN favourability in 12 countries. Gaps are especially large in developing economies such as Kenya (28 percentage point gap between high income and low income respondents), Bolivia (+21), El Salvador (+18), and Uganda (+18), says the survey report. [IDN-InDepthNews – September 18, 2013]

Image: Emblem of the UN

2013 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

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