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The Legitimacy of International Organizations

November 30, 2020


Jonas Tallberg, Stockholm University

Nina Hall, Johns Hopkins SAIS

Tallberg’s research examines the legitimacy of international organizations. In his presentation he examined whether: elites and citizens hold different views about international organizations and if so why? Tallberg noted that while there has been extensive research on performance and procedures of international organizations, there is no existing scholarship measuring differences between elite and citizens’ confidence in multilateralism institutions. This is particularly important today as international organizations have been attacked by political leaders.

Tallberg and his fellow co-authors selected several international organizations as the focus for their study: The International Criminal Court, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, the World Bank, the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization. They conducted surveys of citizens and elite in five countries around the world: United States, Germany, Philippines and Brazil, and Russia. They sought a diverse group of elites including: party-political elites, bureaucratic elites, business elites, media elites, civil society elites, and academic elites. The authors found that elites, on average hold more favourable opinions of international organizations compared to citizens. The exception of this general trend as the research found was Philippines, where compared to elites, citizens hold more favourable views about international organizations. Study also found that citizens and elite had the highest level of confidence in the World Health Organization, over other international organizations. However, as Tallberg noted, the survey was completed before the COVID-19 crisis, and so we don’t know whether public confidence has dropped in the institution over its handling of the pandemic.

The gap between public and elite confidence in international organizations is due to: socioeconomic status, political values, geographical identification, and domestic institutional distrust among other factors. The presence of legitimacy gaps, according to the speaker, is one of the factors for which populist politicians may find it profitable to target international organizations. Performance and procedures also matter for the legitimacy of international organizations. These research findings will soon be published in three volumes, forthcoming with Oxford University Press.