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The social legitimacy of international organisations: Interest representation, institutional performance, and confidence extrapolation in the United Nations

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 October 2014


Social legitimacy is central to the effectiveness of international organisations (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 multilevel 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 organisations' 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.

Copyright © British International Studies Association 2014 

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47 Armingeon and Ceka, ‘The Loss of Trust in the European Union’. Other research in this tradition refines or reverses the logic of this basic argument. Several contributions find that more knowledgeable or cognitively mobilised people rely less on heuristics from domestic politics (for example, Hobolt, ‘Citizen Satisfaction with Democracy’). Others hypothesise and find support for the reverse logic: low levels of support for national political institutions feed into greater support for the EU, which appears as a saviour from malfunctioning domestic politics ( Sánches-Cuenca, Ignacio, ‘The Political Basis of Support for European Integration’, European Union Politics, 1:2 (2000), pp. 147–71)CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

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50 See Table A1 in Appendix A. Tables A2 and A3 in Appendix A provide summary statistics of and correlations between these variables. All material necessary to replicate the analyses in this article are published on the authors' homepages.

51 Appendix B gives an overview of the question wordings for all questions used to code the individual-level variables, as well as the coding of the answer categories.

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68 Teorell, Samanni, Holmberg, and Rothstein, ‘The Quality of Government Dataset’.

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72 The model is estimated using gllamm in Stata. Using this model requires testing whether the covariate effects are constant across categories. A test of this ‘parallel regression’ assumption suggests that this assumption is reasonable given the data at hand. Rabe-Hesketh, Sophia and Skrondal, Anders, Multilevel and Longitudinal Modeling Using Stata (Texas: Stata Press, 2008)Google Scholar.

73 Cf. Rabe-Hesketh and Skrondal, Multilevel and Longitudinal Modeling.

74 We calculate the intra-class correlation as follows: $\rho=Var(\zeta_{1j})/(Var(\zeta_{1j})+\pi^{2}/3)=0.265/(0.265+\pi^{2}/3)=0.076$ .

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83 Tallberg, Sommerer, Squatrito, and Jönsson, The Opening Up of International Organizations.

84 Cf. Hurd, After Anarchy.

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