Elite Communication and Popular Legitimacy in Global Governance
53 Pages Posted: 2 Apr 2016
Date Written: February 2016
While popular legitimacy is central to international cooperation, existing research offers few insights into the process by which citizens come to perceive of international organizations (IOs) as legitimate or not. This paper offers the first systematic and comparative analysis of the role of elite communication in shaping the popular legitimacy of IOs. We build on framing theory to develop an argument about why citizens should be susceptible to elite communication about IOs, and when those effects should be particularly strong. We empirically evaluate the impact of elite communication through a survey experiment conducted among almost 10,000 residents of three countries in relation to five IOs. Four principal conclusions stand out. First, elite communication affects citizens’ perceptions of IO legitimacy, irrespective of whether it invokes the procedures or the performances of IOs as grounds for criticism or endorsement. Second, communication by relatively more credible elites has stronger effects on the popular legitimacy of IOs. Third, negative messages are more effective than positive messages in shaping citizens’ legitimacy perceptions. Fourth, elite communication is more effective when it targets IOs that citizens are relatively less familiar with.
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