Obama Addresses a More Popular United Nations

Sep 21, 2009

In recent years, the opening session of the U.N. General Assembly has frequently produced controversy. In a 2006 speech to the Assembly, for example, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez famously referred to then President George W. Bush as "the devil." For his part, Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has used his turns at the podium to speak strongly against Israel and the United States. But controversies aside, the United Nations remains a quite popular institution throughout much of the world. Indeed, its image has improved in many nations over the last couple of years. This is especially true in the United States, where attitudes toward the U.N. are more positive than they have been since early in this decade.

25-nation Pew Global Attitudes survey, conducted in May and June of this year, found largely positive views toward the U.N. with majorities or pluralities in 19 of the 25 countries expressing a positive opinion. Moreover, ratings of the U.N. have grown more positive since 2007 in 12 of the 25 nations.

Europeans overwhelmingly give the U.N. favorable reviews. More than seven-in-ten in France (74%) and Poland (72%) offer a favorable opinion, as do majorities in Britain (67%), Germany (65%), Spain (61%) and Russia (56%).

The organization is also widely popular in the two African countries surveyed, Kenya (76% favorable) and Nigeria (71%), and to a lesser extent in two of the three Latin American nations included, Mexico (58%) and Brazil (52%). In Argentina, however, nearly half (45%) offer no opinion.

Many in Pakistan (42%) and India (27%) are also unable to give an opinion. Elsewhere in Asia, ratings are on balance positive, especially in South Korea and Indonesia both of which countries accord the U.N. a 79%-favorable rating, its highest marks on the survey.

In the Middle East, views are mixed. Most Lebanese give the organization positive ratings, although, as with many issues in Lebanon, opinions are sharply divided along religious lines, with 86% of Sunnis and 73% of Christians giving the U.N. a favorable rating, compared with only 19% of Shia Muslims.

Most Egyptians (56%) express a positive opinion. However, views in Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories tend to be negative. Positive ratings for the U.N. have become much more common since 2007 in both Egypt (+12 percentage points) and Jordan (+12 percentage points).

In no country, however, have ratings improved as much as in the United States. Two years ago, 48% of Americans held a favorable view of the U.N., compared with 61% today, the highest U.S. rating the U.N. has received since 2001, when a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey found that 77% of Americans held a positive view of the organization.

Read the full commentary Obama Addresses More Popular U.N. on the Pew Research Center's Web site.

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