As the United Nations turns 75, a majority of people in 14 developed nations approve of the international body’s work in eight key areas, including fighting coronavirus, promoting action on climate change and building peace.
And despite years of UN-bashing by American politicians and pundits, it’s Japan, not the United States, that has the lowest opinion of the organization.
A new survey released Monday by the Pew Research Center in Washington, DC, shows Americans giving the UN positive marks in every category.
American support for the multinational body dropped slightly early in President Donald Trump‘s term but has recovered in the past couple of years and now stands roughly where it was during the Obama era, with just under two in three Americans (62%) having a favorable opinion of the UN and about one in three (31%) having an unfavorable view.
As with so many other hot-button issues in the US, there is an enormous partisan gap between Republican and Democratic views of the UN: 85% of Democrats say they support it, while just 39% of Republicans do.
Democrats have consistently had a more positive opinion of the UN than Republicans in Pew studies since 1990, but this year’s 46-percentage-point gap appears to be the biggest difference yet recorded.
The findings come from a 14-country survey carried out this summer. The think tank interviewed 14,276 people in 14 advanced economies in North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific region. The polling was carried out between June 10 and August 3 and took place by telephone rather than face-to-face because of coronavirus.
About seven out of 10 Americans say the UN promotes human rights (70%) and peace (72%), while about six out of 10 say it promotes economic development (62%), promotes action on climate change (61%), and advances the interests of countries like ours (58%).
Narrower majorities say the body promotes action on infectious diseases like coronavirus (55%), cares about the needs of ordinary people (54%) and deals effectively with international problems (51%).
Americans’ opinions of the UN tended to fall in line with those in the other advanced economies Pew surveyed, never differing from the median by more than six points.
The real outlier was Japan, which reported the most unfavorable ratings of the UN of any country in the poll. More than half (55%) of Japanese respondents had an unfavorable opinion of the international body, while just under three in 10 people (29%) reported a favorable opinion.
That is a sharp reversal from just a year ago, when 47% of Japanese people reported a favorable view of the UN and 35% reported an unfavorable view. (Percentages do not equal 100 because 18% of people last year said they did not know or refused to answer the question. This year that figure was 16%.)
Hiro Ueki, a professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, thinks that attacks by Trump and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on the UN and WHO may have influenced Japanese opinions of both bodies in the past year.
“While the US attack, particularly spearheaded by the President and the Secretary of State, was primarily motivated by their attempt to shift blame of the response failure to China and the WHO for domestic political reasons, particularly for the upcoming election, many Japanese may have taken it more literally,” Ueki told CNN by email.
Japanese people do not look at Trump statements as critically as people in other nations, Ueki said.
“The Japanese tend to trust the US more than others (do), as its security depends on it ever more than before in the light of increased threats emanating from North Korea and China,” he added.
“I must add, however, that this sharp fall may be temporary. Should Mr. Biden be elected the next President and should he return to the multilateral approach of the Obama administration, the Japanese support of the UN may increase again,” he speculated.
But, he also pointed out, there is Japanese frustration at its lack of permanent representation on the Security Council, despite its large financial contributions to the UN.
Japanese support for the UN peaked at 61% in 2011, Pew data shows, when the international agency sent aid in response to that year’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.
Backing for the UN fell to the mid-40s in the next two years and stayed there until this year, when it fell by 18 points.
People in Japan also tended to have lower opinions of the World Health Organization (WHO) than people in other countries surveyed, and were less likely to support international cooperation in general.
Two-thirds (67%) of Japanese people said WHO had done a bad job of dealing with the coronavirus outbreak — about twice as high as the median response (35%) across all 14 countries in the survey.
Only South Koreans had lower opinions of WHO’s Covid-19 response than Japanese people. Eight in 10 (80%) South Koreans said WHO had done a bad job.
The figure was 44% in the US.
Pew found that in 12 of the 14 countries polled, women were more likely to have a favorable opinion of WHO’s coronavirus response. The difference was greatest in Italy, where 67% of women and 44% of men said the organization had done a good job.
When it came to the UN, age appears to be the key variable. In 10 of the countries surveyed, younger people were more likely than older people to have a favorable view.
Again, the difference was starkest in Italy, where 80% of people aged 18 to 29 said they have a positive opinion of the UN, as opposed to 56% of Italians aged 50 and over.
Monday’s report is called “International Cooperation Welcomed Across 14 Advanced Economies, but Some Question UN’s Effectiveness.”
It’s the latest report in a Pew series based on data gathered from summer polling of the US, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and South Korea.
Previous reports in the series have found that in light of the coronavirus pandemic, Donald Trump is now less trusted internationally than Russian President Vladimir Putin or Chinese leader Xi Jinping, and that people in the US and the UK rate their governments lowest in their response to the outbreak.