UN Engagement Advocates Hit Back at Congressional Critics With New Poll

May 27, 2011 - 3:00 AM

UN flags

Flags of member nations flying at United Nations headquarters in New York City. (U.N. Photo by Araujo Pinto)

(CNSNews.com) – A new poll suggests that most Americans believe the United Nations is “still needed today” and want the U.S.  to pay its dues to the world body “in full and on time” – but the Republican-Democrat split on the issue remains marked.

The survey was commissioned by two pro-U.N organizations at a time when critics of the world body in the U.S. Congress are pressing for funding to be trimmed, linked to reforms, and targeted to programs that advance U.S. interests and values.

Half of Republican respondents (50 percent) in the poll released this week agreed that the U.N. remains relevant today, while 46 percent said it had “outlived its usefulness.”

By contrast, the figures for Democrats were 84 percent acknowledging the U.N.’s contemporary relevance and 10 percent not. Among independents the results were 63 percent relevant, 31 percent not.

Nine hundred registered voters nationwide were surveyed from April 27-May 2. The research was carried out by Public Opinion Strategies (Republican) and Hart Research Associates (Democratic) on behalf of the United Nations Foundation (UNF) and its Better World Campaign (BWC) affiliate, advocates of strong U.S. engagement with the U.N.

A key question on Americans’ perception of the U.N. found 59 percent of respondents having a favorable view of the organization and 28 percent an unfavorable view – roughly the same result as previous polls for UNF/BWC in 2010, and an change from one in June 2009 that scored 54 percent favorable and 35 percent unfavorable.

Respondents were generally more amenable to funding U.N. peacekeeping activities than they were for funding the U.N.’s operating budget. Still, significant minorities of Republicans opposed both.

The U.S. pays 22 percent of the total U.N. operating budget, and more than 25 percent of its peacekeeping budget, together amounting to $2.5 billion last year.

(Apart from those “assessed” dues, the U.S. gives considerably more in “voluntary contributions”  to U.N. agencies such as the International Atomic Energy Agency and the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian refugees.)

For peacekeeping, 55 percent of GOP respondents in the poll supported and 40 percent opposed paying dues in full and on time. Among Democratic respondents, 83 percent favored payment while 14 percent did not.

On the operating budget, Republican support for payment “in full and on time” dropped to 48 percent, while opposition rose to 45 percent. Seventy-three percent of Democrats supported, and 23 percent opposed, funding for the operating budget. More than one-third of independents (35 percent) also opposed this funding, while 58 percent were in favor.

The UNF and BWC said 85 percent of respondents said it was important for the U.S. to “maintain an active role within the United Nations, while 15 percent said it was not important. The poll did not give a party affiliation breakdown on this question.

The commissioning organizations hailed the results with enthusiasm.

“Anyone who wants to perpetuate myths about negative American perceptions about the United Nations is ignoring the data,” said Peter Yeo, UNF vice president and executive director of the BWC.

“American voters want the U.S. to take a lead role in addressing the world’s toughest challenges, and they know that leadership starts with a purposeful, strong presence at the United Nations.”

Added UNF president Timothy Wirth, “This survey shows that across all party lines, voters recognize the value in our participation at the United Nations. Congress should reaffirm its support for full funding for the U.N. and U.N. peacekeeping operations.”

UN doing a good job? No, says Gallup respondents

A headline result of the new survey – that 59 percent of respondents view the U.N. favorably and 28 percent unfavorably – differs significantly from another poll, by Gallup, which has been tracking public opinion on the issue since the 1950s.

The Gallup question is, “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?”

Its latest survey, in February 2011, had only 31 percent of respondents saying the U.N. was doing a “good job” while 62 percent said it was doing a “poor job.” There was little change seen from the previous year, when the result was 31 percent good, 64 percent poor.

The proportion of Gallup respondents saying the U.N. is doing a “good job” is higher in 2011 and 2010 than during the 2006-2009 period, when it fell between 26 and 30 percent. But before 2006 considerably more Americans gave the U.N. a “good job” grade – percentages ranged from the high 30s to the high 50s through the 1990s and early 2000s. (see graph.pdf)