The Social Legitimacy of International Organizations: Interest Representation, Institutional Performance, and Confidence Extrapolation in the United Nations
Forthcoming in Review of International Studies
37 Pages Posted: 14 Aug 2014
Date Written: August 2014
Social legitimacy is central to the effectiveness of international organizations (IOs). Yet, so far, we have little systematic knowledge about what drives citizens to support or oppose IOs. In this article, we isolate and assess three alternative explanations of social legitimacy in global governance, privileging interest representation, institutional performance, and confidence extrapolation. We test these theories in a multi-level analysis of citizen confidence in the United Nations (UN) using World Values Survey and European Values Study data, supplemented by contextual measures. The results grant support to the arguments that institutional performance and confidence extrapolation shape popular confidence in the UN, while offering little support for the explanation of interest representation. These findings challenge the predominant understanding that more democratic procedures lead to greater social legitimacy for IOs. Instead, the UN case suggests that the social legitimacy of IOs is based primarily on the organizations' capacity to deliver, as well as on citizens’ general confidence in political institutions, which IOs may have little to do with and can do little to change.
Keywords: legitimacy, support, public opinion, international organizations, United Nations, UN, global governance
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