Does Public Opinion Matter? World Attitudes on Global Governance

Friday, December 4, 2009

MARVIN KALB: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to today's Council on Foreign Relations meeting. And I am urged to ask you to please completely turn off -- not just put on vibrate -- your cell phones, BlackBerries, all wireless devices to avoid interference with the sound system. And what we're going to say is actually on-the-record; has nothing to do with the usual Council rules.

I'm Marvin Kalb. I am now the writer-in-residence at the United States Institute of Peace. I'm the Murrow professor emeritus at Harvard; and, once in my life, I was a reporter.

And the people who are on the panel with me here this afternoon, to my immediate left, Stewart Patrick, senior fellow and director of the International Institutions and Global Governance Program here at the Council. To my further left -- only geography -- Steve Kull, director of the Program on International Policy Attitudes,

Our subject is, "Does Public Opinion Matter? World Attitudes on Global Governance." And I'm going to quote President Obama as heralding "a new era of global engagement," and the obvious question is, what do publics, both here in the United States and elsewhere around the world, think of this idea; how are the institutional organizations actually coping with them?

We are, though, not politicians rolling out something today. It is a new digest form of existing polling data on many, many questions -- 10 principal questions. And I would like to as Stewart to please start us off with some introduction to this new program.

STEWART PATRICK: Sure. Thank you very much, Marvin. It's a great pleasure to be here with you, and that you're presiding over this event. It's also a great pleasure to collaborate with my good friend Steven Kull, who I've worked with in the past, and the wonderful people at

This project came about as a core theme of our International Institutions and Global Governance Program because we felt that, although the CFR tends to be an elite-focused organization and doesn't often address itself to what the wider American public, and also the global public might think, we think, for a number of reasons -- which we will get into in the course of this conversation, that what the public thinks matters; that it's an important part of statecraft for American leaders and international leaders to be aware of what their constituents and their fellow citizens actually think about the main issues of the day.

Now, the International Institutions and Global Governance Program looks basically at the requirements for effective multilateral cooperation in dealing with a range of global and transnational challenges. And as we started looking at some of the data, we didn't find any one-stop shop where you could actually find out what people around the world, and in the United States, felt about some of the major international institutions, nor about some of these major problems, ranging from terrorism to climate change, et cetera.

And so we decided to create something that would -- it's main value added is that it takes and integrates in a comprehensive way, and frames in a comprehensive way existing polling data; brings it together; allows you to juxtapose what Americans think versus what citizenry around the world thinks, and perhaps tease out some differences where those exist.

We found some -- if I can give you a sense of some of the headline findings, one of the striking things that we found is just how similar many publics around the worlds are in terms of the sort of world order that they want. They're extremely multilaterally inclined; they believe in a world order based on international law; they believe countries should obey international law even if it goes against their national interests.

They are strongly inclined to make the United States a major -- excuse me, the United Nations the major bedrock of international order. They recognize that it has problems, but they strongly look to the United Nations, and particularly the U.N. Security Council, as the bedrock authority of international legitimacy when it comes to issues, for instance, of the use of force.

In general, publics appear to be less sovereignty obsessed and less concerned about freedom of action for their own countries than you would imagine, than often is the conventional wisdom, and that their -- and that the governments are themselves.

This also, by the way, is important with respect to the United States, because when we think about the United States -- American political culture, American power, et cetera, we think about the United States as being an exceptionalist country, one that is extremely sovereignty inclined.

And when it comes to the data that we see, in most cases that does not tend to be the case, in terms of international law, in terms of the primacy that the American public puts on the U.N. Security Council, for instance, in terms of the desire of the majority of American public to join the International Criminal Court, for instance. And so we think that these are important background things that need to be in (the) policymaker's mind.

If I just might -- I'm not going to go through an entire presentation here, but just to show you how, when you get to this site on the Web, it actually works. You'll see here that we have a landing page -- and you probably can't read it necessarily down below, but it's divided up into a number of chapters. And so, from the landing page, you can pick a particular chapter.

For instance, "World Opinion on Violent Conflict." You could also do the same thing in "U.S. Opinion on Violent Conflict." And then that will take you down to a number of items. For instance: What's the attitude on the use of force? What's the role of the Security Council? What should be the U.N.'s role in peacekeeping, et cetera?

Then you can dive down a little bit more, and here's the chapter on "Responding to Violent Conflict." It gives you a headline about what people around the world think about the use of force, the Security Council's role in it. It gives you, actually, polling data.

And then the "final level of granularity," as our friends in the military say, gets you to the actual polls themselves, so that you can look for yourself and see how the question was framed and what the overall impressions were.

So, thanks.

KALB: Thank you very, very much -- good.

Steve, please.

STEVEN KULL: All right. Well, I'm going to talk a little bit about -- hold on, oops -- did I do this right? No, I didn't. Uh-oh, oops. (Laughs.) Oh yeah, I was using the wrong directions. Here we go.

I'm going to address the question of why policy practitioners should care about public opinion at home and abroad, particularly in regard to the question of international cooperation, global governance and those kinds of issues. And I have a -- I'm going to put out six reasons, and give you some data that might be of interest.

The first that's particularly interesting, I think, is that publics seem to be more cooperative than states. That's not always what people think, as we'll see. Policy practitioners often think that states are restrictive, more afraid of cooperation, more protective of national sovereignty, but that actually proves pretty much to not be the case.

So if policy practitioners want to promote international cooperation, they can pretty much see public opinion as a kind of ally in this process -- not in every case, of course, but this is a tendency on that side. And one of the points of evidence for that is that you can see that, in some cases, the public is really "thinking outside the box" that most states are thinking in these days.

Here are some examples. Asked about having a standing U.N. peacekeeping force selected, trained and commanded by the United Nations, on average, across 22 countries, 66 percent favored that idea, as well as 72 percent of the American public.

Giving the U.N. the authority to go into countries in order to investigate violations of human rights -- 65 percent favor that idea, on average; and the U.S. public, three-quarters favor it.

Giving the U.N. the power to regulate the international arms trade. Even with all the concerns about gun control, there's 60 percent of Americans support that idea, as well as a 22-country average of 58 percent.

As you know, there's been talk about eliminating nuclear weapons by developing some kind of international regime that involves intrusive inspections in all countries. And we asked 21 countries about that and, on average, three-quarters supported that idea, even though it was really emphasized that "there would be intrusive inspections in your country;" as did 77 percent of Americans.

Going into Copenhagen, how are people feeling about, what should their -- should their governments be more flexible, more ready to cooperate, less ready? What we found was, on average, 60 percent say that their government should put a higher priority on dealing with the problem of climate change; and in the U.S., 52 percent say that they should put a higher priority.

So it's not a situation of the public resisting, pulling back, saying -- which is really quite remarkable because they don't really see, can't touch, can't feel the effect of climate change, but still you have a majority saying, 'Do more than you're doing right now.' You would think maybe that the government had to pull people along, but, in fact, they're saying, 'No, you're not quite -- you really should be doing more than you are.'

Okay, second, leaders of other countries may not be as representative of their public as they claim. It's very easy for leaders to say, 'You know, we're representing our public in this issue.' And one of these is about -- that you may have heard about is in regard to developing countries, whether they have a responsibility to limit their greenhouse gas emissions. As you know, many of the developing countries say they don't.

And we presented this argument: Because countries that are less wealthy, produce relatively low emissions per person, they should not be expected to limit their emissions of climate-changing gasses along with wealthy countries; against the view that because total emissions from less wealthy countries are substantial and growing, these countries should limit their emissions of climate-change gasses along with wealthy countries. So what do the developing countries say on this question? Well, as you can see from the blue bars there, in most cases a majority or a plurality said that the developing countries should limit their emissions, contrary to the position of their governments.

Another one is environmental standards and labor standards in trade agreements. Developing countries have taken the position, 'Oh, we don't want that; that's an intrusion on our sovereignty; you're telling us what to do; you're trying to take away our comparative advantage.' But, in fact, a large majority of people in these countries there's -- the labor standards, favor having those standards as part of trade agreements. And when they've done focus groups, they said, 'Oh, yes, we want the international community to put pressure on our government to enforce those laws about the environment and labor standards.'

Okay, policy practitioners don't necessarily understand their own public as well as they think. Now, we did this study, together with the Chicago Council a few years ago, where we had a group of leaders -- from the administration, from Congress, business community, and so on, and we not only asked them what they thought, but we asked them what they thought the public thought.

And here's an example of a question that we used was: The U.S. should be more willing to make decisions within the U.N., even if this means that the U.S. will sometimes have to go along with a policy that is not its first choice. Well, in fact, 66 percent of Americans agreed with that, as did almost 80 percent of all the leaders, except the Republican staffers.

Now, we asked then, though, what do you think -- the majority agrees, disagrees, or views are evenly divided? Well, here you can see down on the bottom there, on average -- overall, only 26 percent even estimated that a majority agreed, and only about 10 (percent) or 12 percent knew that that would be more than 60 percent. So there was a very poor perception of the public.

Let me give you just a few quick other examples: The U.S. participation in the International Criminal Court, 76 percent of the public support that, as do most leaders, but overall, only 30 percent of the leaders knew that that was a majority position, much less a large majority. The same with Kyoto treaty, 71 percent of Americans supported adopting it; only 38 percent of leaders knew that that was a majority position.

Okay, another key dynamic. People generally tend to underestimate the public's readiness to cooperate -- not just the leaders, people in general. That's one of the reasons I think policymakers have this tendency to underestimate the public's readiness. But this, it turns out, is a general human tendency.

If you asked people, "Are you more supportive or less supportive than average?" and you take the whole sample, those that say "more" and those that say "less" should be equal if the public was perceiving itself correctly, right. But, in fact, it tends to lean pretty -- quite heavily to the view that they are more supportive of cooperation than average. We call it the "Lake Wobegon effect" -- we all think we're above average;

"I get it; cooperation's really needed, but see, my friends, my neighbors, they just don't understand these things, you know, they're just too" -- you know, so. (Laughter.)

Five, assumptions about public opinion in other countries affects public opinion at home. This is, I think, particularly relevant right now in regard to Afghanistan, and I'll show you a good example. We asked whether the NATO mission should be ended now or continued in 18 countries. And here you see the average/ On average, 50 percent said that it should be ended now; 37 percent said that it should be continued -- Americans said that it should be continued, by the way.

Then we asked, well, what do you think most Afghans think? Well, 53 percent thought most Afghans wanted NATO to leave; and just 30 percent to remain. Well, then we looked at the correlation between these two views. Well, among those that think the Afghan people want NATO to stay, almost all thought they should stay. Among those who thought NATO -- most Afghans wanted NATO to leave, most thought that they should leave.

So assumptions about public opinion are very powerful in shaping opinion. And so it's -- I think this is very relevant to the public diplomacy strategy on the part of the administration, because, in fact, the polling shows that the majority of Afghans want the U.S. to remain, want NATO to remain. And that could be a very relevant factor that, clearly, we know that people are not aware of -- most people are not aware of.

Okay, finally the last point. Public support gives policies legitimacy. There is something very powerful about public opinion in this regard. We asked, "Around the world, do you agree or disagree with the statement from the Universal Declaration of the Human -- of Human Rights, 'The will of the people should be the basis of authority of government?'" Eighty-five percent agree -- majorities everywhere; 87 percent of the American public; and large majorities say that the will of the people should have greater influence on government, more than it does.

They also think that policymakers should pay attention to polls, even when we gave them the argument that this might distract them from what they actually think is right. On average, 80 percent said they should pay attention to polls, including 81 percent of Americans. So --

KALB: Don't you think they do?

KULL: Well, that's a good question, because -- whether they do or not. Based on interviews that I've done, they say they pay rather minimal attention, except when it comes to elections, or something that's really very high profile that they're concerned is going to get them in trouble --

KALB: But then on public policy issues, of war and peace, they go with their guts --

KULL: On most issues, no.

KALB: -- and what they think is really --

(Cross talk)

KULL: Yeah, and what they assume about their public --

(Cross talk.)

KULL: Well, polls, I don't know --

(Cross talk.)

KULL: They have an image of the public. And based on the interviews that I've done, they have -- there's a tendency to go, "I know my public," right. And members of Congress tend to think that their district is unique or different, and that's generally not the case.

So, for those of the realists in the room, I thought I would -- (laughter) -- finish my other quote from Machiavelli, that "a wise man will not" --

(Cross talk, laughter.)

KULL: -- "ignore public opinion."

KALB: Thank you --

KULL: Sure.

KALB: -- thank you both very, very much.

I get the impression, listening to you and having peeked at your website last night, a lot of this, by the very nature of public opinion, is general. So that I would imagine that if I were a scholar, and I needed back-up data to support a paper that I was writing, a classroom discussion, this kind of digest would be extremely helpful.

If I were a journalist seeking information that I have to use in a day-to-day story -- or, this day and age, in an hour-to-hour story -- this might not be as helpful. For example, this week the president made a major statement about American troop levels in Afghanistan. Does this directly help me understand that?

PATRICK: Yeah, let me -- if I can go first.

I think, first of all, your first statement -- that if you were an academic, or, you know, a graduate student, or an undergraduate, you would find this very useful -- we have -- that's the feedback we've already gotten that, absolutely, it's a -- I would -- you know, but calling it a "public good" might be a little grandiose, but I think people find it extremely useful.

In terms of how it could influence, say, a journalist who was trying -- you know, operating on a deadline and wants to know about Afghanistan, first of all, I think it could provide some useful context --

KALB: Sure.

PATRICK: -- for overall trends, and also a sense that they -- if there is just a poll that just came out, that that's one data point and it has to be sort of contextualized.

There are a few things in here that Steve already mentioned. In addition, there is some information on NATO as well that I think is relevant to how the American public is thinking about the potential in Afghanistan. There's a very strong support for NATO within the United States, but also it's clear that in polling -- from polling data that there is a distinct difference in the readiness of the American public, versus publics in Europe, to actually contribute and to believe that the NATO Alliance actually creates obligations to actually act in collective defense.

And that is -- and there's also a sense on the part of the American public that they're not always getting the trans-Atlantic assistance that they might want otherwise. So that's an important background feature.

On the other hand, there is also a sense that because the Afghanistan case is one in which there is a U.N. imprimatur on it -- it still is under the rubric of U.N. Security Council resolutions, that is something that could, the president certainly could build on, in terms of building a case for why this is necessary --

KALB: No, but please don't misunderstand me. I didn't ask the question to be critical of your -- (inaudible) --

PATRICK: Yeah, no -- understood, yeah.

KALB: I'm asking it -- in my former life, if I were a reporter trying to go to your website and find supporting data for a breaking news story, if I was doing an analysis piece, I could see it. A hard news piece, I couldn't see it. I'm more apt to go to something -- what did CBS News polling data for Washington, that sort of thing.

PATRICK: Yeah, I think it's -- I think it's probably accurate.

KULL: Sure. And that's --

PATRICK: It's the nature of the product.

KULL: -- you want the most immediate number that you can get. But you also need to put it in context. You need to see the bigger picture -- what are the underlying values that are driving this thing? And those tend to be quite stable. There is this impression that the public goes up and down, and very fickle, and all that. That's really not true. If you look at the basic value questions, they tend to be quite stable.

PATRICK: Administrations tend to oscillate a bit more on some of these questions than the public.

KALB: Yes. And so you will be putting out a digest, how often?

PATRICK: That's still in discussion. We'd like to do it on an -- certainly on an annual basis. The question is, how much updating we would do beforehand, or as we go along.

Go ahead, Steve.

KULL: I just wanted to emphasize, too, that the --

KALB: Is it a matter of money, that you need financial support -- (inaudible) --

PATRICK: Yes. Should we give our Web address? (Laughter.)

KALB: If you had unlimited sums, would you put it out every month, week, every six months? How would you do it?

PATRICK: You know, I think that it would -- you know, it could be, you know, biannually -- I mean, excuse me -- whatever the phrase is for -- (laughter) -- twice a year. (Laughter.)

KALB: Go ahead, Steve.

KULL: I wanted to finish one point about the reporter. I think it's really important to remember that one poll does not tell you "the story." You actually, I think, need multiple poll findings to really get the picture. I think of it -- that it's like the story of the blind man and the elephant. Each poll finding is one measure, and you really have to have multiple measures to really put it together and see the whole elephant, to see the whole picture.

So, okay, yeah, today 51 percent say they support the increase of 30,000 troops in Afghanistan -- just came out, okay. So well, what exactly does that mean, you know? Well, before, they were saying, well, no they didn't support it; well, now they do; and what's changed; and, you know, what's the issue about cooperation --

KALB: We read almost every day that American support for the effort in Afghanistan is very weak, and going on down. Is that supported by your information?

PATRICK: We actually have some polling data on Afghanistan that shows that, you know, in February when initially the -- I guess the initial review was announced, there was support for increasing troops, I believe, in Afghanistan at that point. Since then, there has not been -- there has not been support more recently -- I think, in October, I think, there was not support for increasing troops. But nor was there yet majority support to pull down. So the erosion is certainly there.

KULL: And what you'll find by looking at a lot of the polling data that's a big driver, is confidence in the potential for success. People need a larger narrative that all of this effort fits into. And when Americans are dying, they really -- they say, "Where is this going?" "What is this adding up to?"

If the president -- and he's the primary narrative-maker -- puts it together in a framework that makes sense for them -- for him -- and that's what he tried to do by linking it all the way back to 9/11 by emphasizing the multilateral participation, the support from the U.N. -- he touched all those points. And that makes a lot of sense. That's what our -- that's what the polling would say he should be doing.

And what was the net effect? Well, he did move those numbers. He did pull it together into a coherent narrative and now there's a slight majority approving.

KALB: So your sense would be, if you were to do a digest of post-Obama's speech last Tuesday six months from now, you would be able to provide data showing an up-tick in support for --

KULL: Oh, that already came out today that there was an up-tick. And --

KALB: But is that one poll, or is there --

KULL: Yes, it was one poll --

KALB: -- a series of polls?

KULL: -- but what does that mean, exactly?

KALB: Right.

KULL: And I think if you look at a lot of other polls about how -- the importance of the multilateral support, the participation of NATO, a kind of -- I think that right now you see a lot of dissatisfaction with the whole notion of the war on terrorism. That framework has really just worn out.

And we've just seen these new numbers coming out of Pew showing this kind of desire to -- kind of this like, 'maybe we should go our own way; we were too engaged; we're doing too much; we're overstretched.' And it's a kind of rejection of the war on terrorism narrative that has not really worked out well.

KALB: Let me --

KULL: Go ahead, please.

KALB: -- pitch to Stewart now, because I'm addressing this to you, really.

Andy Kohut at Pew came out with a poll this week. And Andy says, for the first time in more than 40 years, a plurality -- 49 percent, said the U.S. should "mind its own" -- (chuckles) -- "mind its own business," internationally. I had the impression, looking at -- again, last night, looking at this digest of polls that you're suggesting increased, significantly increased -- maybe not "increased," but significant support for the idea of an international effort -- not just in Afghanistan, I'm not talking about that, but broadly speaking -- that the American public's view is more generous toward the rest of the world than the recent Pew poll would suggest.

PATRICK: Yeah, very much so. I mean the -- you know, the initial headline does sort of grab one, but I would say that I think that, personally speaking, that there was an overinterpretation of that poll, that poll question.

The question also says, The United States should go its own way in the world and not worry too much about --

KALB: What others think.

PATRICK: -- yeah. Well, there's also what others think, but then -- well, there's two questions. One of them is, it should mind its own business in the world and should not -- and should sort of leave other countries alone. I read that question as being strongly framed by Afghanistan and Iraq. That's the second half of that question.

And, you know, there's no question -- and how one interprets that 51 percent of Americans think that, that could easily be a sense of, "look, we are so overextended. We're tired of Afghanistan and Iraq. We don't want to do nation-building. Let's let those other countries sort of go their own way, and sort of take care of themselves, and attend to some other stuff we need to do."

That doesn't necessarily -- that's not necessarily unilateralist, and it's not necessarily isolationist. What it could be is we'd really like to be more multilateralists and not be the world's policeman. So that's one way I would frame that.

There is another question as well in that poll that sort of suggests a more of a unilateralism, as opposed to, in their view, a retrenchment -- which was what that other one was, and that is, the United States should basically do what it wants without concern to others. That then is qualified, however, by several other subsidiary questions: "unless it really alienates our allies," you know, and then support for that drops to, like, 25 percent.

So, again, these -- it does depend on how you frame the question. I'm not -- I don't want to cast aspersions on the poll, particularly since this poll was partly sponsored by a CFR effort -- (laughter) -- the Pew poll. But I do want to emphasize that it is one data point in -- well, one effort that has to be considered in the broader context.

It does also show, interestingly, a continued modest decline in U.S. attitudes towards a performance of the United Nations. And that is something also that we have found, is that there is a decline in the assessed performance of the United Nations, but not, paradoxically, at the same time, there is not a decline in the mission of the United Nations -- there's a desire to strengthen and bolster the United Nations. And so you get the impression that it's not living up to its ideals. I don't know if that's --

KULL: Yeah. Very large majorities in that same poll say that -- favor the idea of strengthening the United Nations; and emphasize working together with allies; and being engaged in the world, but not being so dominant, and things like that. So it's a -- that's just another example of how things have to be put together into a larger tapestry, a larger context to really understand what they mean.

But, yes, there is a, there is a -- the meaning of the question can also change. You know, what does "go your own way" mean exactly? And I think, right now, it's not so much that people want to be unilateralist as much as they are feeling some frustration with the form of the efforts that we have been making, and they were looking for some --

KALB: Well, my --

PATRICK: -- a new approach.

KALB: -- see, my impression of the digest, and I have not examined it that carefully, obviously, is that you're suggesting an America and a world open, enthusiastic, in fact, given some of the numbers, about internationalism, about an international approach -- the legitimacy of the U.N., all of that.

And if the Pew poll is basically accurate, it is suggesting a different line entirely. So help me out on that. Which is accurate?

KULL: Well, again, if you come back just to the Pew poll itself, you'll find a whole lot of numbers that point to support for engagement, support for multilateralism throughout that poll.

There are some movements upward on these questions, and there's a larger minority that is saying -- responding, "Yeah, we need to, in some way, pull back, or in some way disengage." And I think that it's rooted in the dissatisfaction with the model of our engagement, in the context of the war on terrorism -- it was highly unilateral, with a big emphasis on the use of military force. People perceive it's not working very well, and so they're just -- they're backing off of that.

But if you look at the total picture, it's not -- that's not the only thing that's going on, that you need that --

KALB: No, it's not the only thing, but it's a very important factor --

KULL: Absolutely.

PATRICK: Yeah. I mean, I think that there is a general sense -- enthusiasm for multilateral cooperation, I mean, you know, I would say, you know, certainly openness, receptivity; to some degree, preference for -- I think what you get -- the sense that I get -- and, again, not somebody who's been a specialist at looking at public opinion polls -- is a sense that the world is an extremely complicated place and there are a whole lot of global problems that the United States and other countries can't solve on their own.

And so there is a recognition that there's going to have to be some give and take, and some, you know, common -- to some degree, some common sacrifice. And there's, you know -- the conditions under which common sacrifice are acceptable will vary according to, you know, how the questions are framed and what the trade-offs are.

KALB: We've got about a half hour and I want to devote that mostly to your questions. But I do want to ask just one more while you guys get ready for your questions.

Was there anything, when you looked at that digest the first time, where you looked at it and said, "Wow! I mean, "yippee, I'm glad we did this; this is terribly important?"

KULL: I think it's a better question for Stewart than for me, because I've been so immersed --

KALB: I see. You're always looking at that.

KULL: -- in it so long. I just -- all I can say is that when you, you know, when you put all the pieces together, and the big shape comes together, what is so remarkable to me is how much agreement there is --

KALB: (Inaudible.)

KULL: -- about the importance of international law, about human rights, about --

PATRICK: That was striking, the human rights --

KULL: -- about the United Nations. I mean, just --

PATRICK: -- I mean, there's no, there's no -- you don't get a sense of, like, Asian values --

KULL: Yes. Or the idea that --

(Cross talk.)

KULL: -- the world is all different --

PATRICK: Yeah, and I would say that -- I mean, the thing that struck me most about the U.S. -- I mean, I was quite struck by the notion that, given how controversial it would be in the United States, the notion of, sort of, the U.N. having its own, you know, standing peacekeeping force -- I was also struck by the fact that the majority of the American people suggests that they would be, that they would prefer a veto override. In other words, that one member of the U.N. Security Council cannot block a resolution.

Now, they did not ask them, "If everyone else wanted to pass a resolution critical of Israel, how would you feel about the fact that the United States couldn't use its veto?" Or -- or should we -- you know, so it's --

KULL: But they were told -- Americans were told that would mean that the U.S. could be overridden.

PATRICK: Right --

KULL: And still you had a large majority saying they're for it.

PATRICK: So it's a -- I mean, it's a -- so, it's a powerful -- I mean, again, you know, one could then drill down and, you know, get into the permutations of it, but it was quite powerful to me. I was stunned, actually.

KALB: That's wonderful.

Okay, questions. Wait for the mike. Stand, state your name and affiliation, and make it a question. Why don't we start right over here.

QUESTIONER: Thank you very much. Moses Suleiman, Think-Tank Monitor.

I may be the only -- probably the only skeptical -- maybe others. Does really public opinion matters? We can take the experience of the war on Iraq. The international public opinion and domestic public opinion was against the war. So when --

KALB: Not all the time.

QUESTIONER: Well, the majority. I think probably for the first time, before the war, there was more protest -- massive protest than any other engagement of the United States. But, in any case, when the policymaker really listen to public opinion, whether war public opinion or domestic public opinion on international issues --

KALB: Okay --

QUESTIONER: -- can we shape, really, public opinion, then what is the role of the media in shaping public opinion?

PATRICK: Steve, do you want to -- (laughter.)

KALB: Steve --

KULL: There is --

KALB: Steve do you want to answer the first couple of those questions? (Laughter.)

KULL: Sure.

There is a tremendous amount of research that's been done by political scientists on this question. And we could go through, you know, case by case by case -- and here's a case where it did have an impact; a case where it didn't. And clearly, policymakers are not compelled by public opinion, but it is a factor that they do take into account, that does play some role, and, in some cases, a decisive role. But they also have a lot of latitude, particularly in regard to foreign policy, so if they want to do that, they can.

The public also tends to -- when it comes to a question like the use of force, or like in the case of Iraq, if the president decides to make -- to use force, and troops are involved, then they do tend to, kind of, rally around the president. But it is -- from doing interviews with policymakers, and looking at patterns, it's clear that it does play some role.

Now, in some cases, the role that it's playing is based on an image of the public that's not correct. Policymakers will regularly say, "I can't" -- "I think we should do X, Y or Z," right, "but I can't because the public isn't for it; the public is against it," right. Remember when we were looking at those -- the numbers about the International Criminal Court, and Kyoto, and making more decisions through the U.N., all the leaders were in line with -- were on the same page as the public, even though those were, in a sense, out of whack or out of step with actual policy.

And when you asked them, "Well, what's going on here," they perceived that the public is constraining them. So that's one way that the public has -- that the image of the public has played a role that is not actually in line with real public opinion.

KALB: Thank you, Steve.

Yes, right here.

QUESTIONER: Sharik Zephyr (sp) with the Global Engagement Group of the National Counterterrorism Center. First of all, thank you. I think it's a tremendous resource and I'm looking forward to using that, so thanks.

I'm trying to think -- forgive me, I don't think I'm going to say this particularly eloquently, and I know we touched on elections, but I think the second point was that policy practitioners don't understand our public. Is it that, or is it that elected officials, or those like me who work for elected officials -- you know, even as a civil servant, that we look not at the "American public," but we look at likely voters.

And so when you looked at things like internationalism, support for internationalism, and, you know, the American public -- whatever that means, is supportive of that; versus, "Well, my constituents, or people who are actually going, you know, to have an impact on my job, what do they think, and that's what I care about." Does that make -- does that make sense?

KALB: Yes, it does.

KULL: There are not big differences between -- on the views of likely voters and the general public. People in Congressional offices say that the people who call and write are more -- have a kind of uniquely isolationist, unilateralist, anti-U.N. tone, anti-foreign aid that's different from what you see in polls.

And it's possible that the people who call and write are, in some way, unique and not representative. However, when we probed into this, it's not always clear that it's -- that it's actually the case, because when you ask, Well, do you ever get calls or letters in support of the U.N.?, we get responses like, "Oh, yeah, well that's just the -- your "U.N. association types" -- (laughter) -- "that's your World Affairs Council types." "Those aren't, you know, real Americans." (Laughter.) The ones who call them about the black helicopters, that's Joe Six-pack, "that's America."

KALB: Okay.

Yes, please, right here. Microphone -- yeah, there we go. Thank you.

QUESTIONER: Mack Gessler (ph), University of Maryland. In full disclosure, I've done some work with Steve Kull.

I was impressed with the study -- with the compendium, and I should -- you didn't talk about it, but there's quite a bit about international economic policy and international economic institutions in it, which I thought were very useful.

I have one question that I saw covered somewhat in the poll, but I wonder if you could speak to it. We have had a "Great Recession," which you haven't mentioned. You mentioned the security problems as being "a downer" for, perhaps, international engagement. You didn't talk about the recession as being either pushing people away from international engagement generally, or toward greater protectionism, et cetera.

I realize that because the surveys were conducted over a substantial period of time, there's only maybe a limited number of data points until mid- or late 2008 onward, but I wonder if you could talk a little bit about whether there's any sense whether the recession has had an impact or not.

PATRICK: Perhaps I'll start on -- and then maybe I'll need 00 if you have data points on the recession question.

Just in terms of -- thanks, Mack (ph), in terms of -- there is a bunch of stuff in here on -- interesting information on world trade, on the global economy. And just a couple of headlines that I'd like to share: One of them is that, you know, the best -- there's strong support for globalization in most countries of the world. They have been polled with questions about the pace of globalization in a sense that that's worrisome.

As Steve mentioned, there's, you know, almost universal support for it, including trade environmental -- labor and environmental standards; and also a sense amongst developed countries -- developing countries that the rich world isn't playing fair.

One touchy issue where protectionist sentiment seems to be coming up, and perhaps increasing, is growing negative views of foreign direct investment when it comes to actually buying companies in the, sort of, " sovereign wealth fund" phenomenon that's come up.

In terms of global finance -- and this is one which, some of this polling is more recent, since the financial crisis broke -- there does seem to be largely widespread international support for the notion of a global regulatory body, with the exception of the United States,, where there is less support for the notion of an actual body that would actually regulate cross-border activities of large financial firms.

In terms of World Bank and IMF, the assessments are largely positive, tending to be slightly stronger for the World Bank than the IMF.

Do you have some insights on that -- on the degree to which -- I mean, I didn't see clear indications of, sort of, a drop off in support for multilateral engagement from -- in the wake of the global financial crisis.

KULL: No, I think, though, that Mack (sp), you're right that people are feeling stretched at the moment, and they just don't feel that we have extra resources to take on -- you know, they're looking for places to cut in their own private budget, and that sort of carries over into the collective budget as well.

But I don't -- I haven't seen anything that suggests -- well, I think there's, kind of, probably more -- there are some signs of more concern about security of jobs, and the affect that trade can have on that. But it's quite modest. I wouldn't make much of it.

You, overall, have the view that, 'Well, the growth of trade is a positive thing -- mildly positive thing, not a fantastic thing, but mildly positive, and that it would be good for us to try to mitigate the effects of increasing trade on, particularly on workers and the environment.' And if that slows down the growth of trade, like, people at the WTO will say to you, "Too bad. That's all right. We can live with that. It's not that great a thing."

KALB: I want to ask the questioners as well as the answerers to shorten it up a little bit, because there are a lot of hands popping up all over the place.

Mitzi Wertheim.

QUESTIONER: I'm Mitzi Wertheim, with the Naval Post Graduate School.

I'm really curious about the base from which these statistics come from. Are there age differences? Are there educational differences? Are there geographic differences? Because I certainly get the sense that certain parts of the country -- at least when I listen to C-SPAN and they call in, have a particular point of view.

Are there differences between the East and the West -- anyway, you hear what I'm asking for.

KULL: To have it really be brief, the answer is no.

KALB: Not that brief. (Laughter.)

KULL: (Laughs.) Regional differences are really very minor. There are some age differences on some questions -- young people tend to be a little more internationalist than older people. But the similarities within all those demographic groups definitely override the differences.

QUESTIONER: How large is the base?

KULL: Well, these are from many different polling sources. It's quite comprehensive.

PATRICK: Hundreds -- and hundreds of different polls --

KALB: Yeah, well --

KULL: And, you know, generally you have, on average, about 1,000 -- the samples are of about 1,000 respondents in each case.

KALB: Okay.

Garry -- in the back, in the middle.

QUESTIONER: Thanks very much. Garry Mitchell, from The Mitchell Report.

Patrick and Steve, I want to go back to the Pew CFR poll, not to harp on it, but to use it as a way of asking a question about the resource that you're developing. One of the most striking findings in that poll yesterday -- that was released yesterday is that both in China and in the United States there is agreement that the emerging power in the 21st century is going to be China, not the United States. Leave aside that question.

At the conclusion of the conversation both Andy Kohut and Jim Lindsay were -- from the Council, were asked, sort of, What's your bottom line on this? And Andy said, you know, the American people are nervous about their place in the world. And Jim Lindsay made an interesting point, which was, 'But we've been here before; this was like the late '70s and early '80s when we felt that way about Japan.'

My question is, is this resource that you're building going to have some capacity to give that kind of perspective. Sort of, you know, you talked about the Lake Wobegon thing, this would be the, sort of, "deja vu all over again." (Laughter.) Will there be the capacity in this resource that you're developing to help people take a look at, you know, emerging trends, and see when were we last here, and 'what were we thinking and saying then?

KALB: Thank you.


PATRICK: That's a very interesting question, Garry.

I think that, ideally, yes. One of the things that we -- with respect to, specifically, to China, one of the things that I would like to see, us going forward, is to have a little bit more on opinions, both about and within rising powers, they're current trajectory, and what this means for international order, because it's something that is an ongoing debate within the U.S. government as well, is, 'Are these countries going to be responsible stakeholders; how are they actually going to use their power, et cetera?' So I would very much like to see that.

And, with respect to -- you know, and if there are -- you know, we'll go back and look at this and see if there are places where we can tell an interesting story that could capture the point that Jim made, that, you know, "this is deja vu all over again" with the worry about Japan's rise, et cetera, and maybe capture some of those longer-term trend lines. We do go back, you know, a decade or so, but not earlier than that right now.

KALB: Well, it's kind of interesting, because if, in fact, you have follow-ups to this -- which I certainly hope you will, you can take something like that into account.


KALB: And sort of see it --

PATRICK: We can also add some issue areas too. Arguably, there's -- you know, we don't have anything on migration; we don't have anything on a number of different global issues.

KULL: Just real quickly.

The example that -- okay, people say that China is the leading economic power. Oh, that must be they're really worried, right? Well, there was another poll where we asked, "Do you think China will eventually catch up with the U.S.?" and the majority of Americans said yes.

Well, is that mostly good, mostly bad, or neither? Well, mixed. There was no majority that said that that would be mostly bad. Publics in general are just not involved as much with these kind of narratives as, who's ahead, who's behind, you know, who's winning?

KALB: Is that a matter of ignorance or interest?

KULL: It's just not as compelling a, you know, a narrative. It's like, "Well, maybe the Chinese are going to take care of some of the problems." "We have so much responsibility, why is it all -- they're always looking to us." "Maybe if China is stronger, they can carry some of the burden." You hear that in focus groups.

QUESTIONER: (Inaudible). I'm with CatoInstitute

You were speaking mostly about similarities. Could you speak a little bit about differences? What do you find -- which countries, or maybe which public of which nations happen to be more cooperative, and which are less cooperative?

And second, since you are in this business not for the first year, were you able to see some particular trends which particular countries are -- some, kind of, getting much faster more cooperative; and which are lagging behind in this business?

KALB: Thank you.


PATRICK: I mean, it's a difficult question. Sometimes it's -- we might be able to pick out a few countries, and I'll propose a couple. But it does tend to break down, to some degree, over issue areas, so that the United States could be quite cooperative in one area and much less so in another.

You know, globally, I was -- I kept being struck by how internationalist the Kenyans were. I don't know where that came from, but, you know. maybe --

KULL: The Nigerians too.

PATRICK: The Nigerians too, as well. It's just sort of remarkable, in terms of, you know, the, sort of, 90 percent, you know, favoring this or that.

It has to be said on some of the more sovereignty-related questions, the Russians are probably a little bit more problematic than some.

KALB: And in the Muslim world.

PATRICK: Yeah, and countries in the Muslim world.

There are certainly gradations within the United States compared to some others, particularly on the, sort of, more confidence in the role of the private sector; more tendency to use some of the harder edges of power, particularly compared even with the Europeans -- you know, we're in an alliance with them, but tending to be a little bit more -- a little bit more -- support for sanctions, a little bit more support for the use of force, although, again, not usually having that be the primary.

KULL: It's heavily driven by whether people perceive the cooperation as something that's dominated by the U.S. And in the Muslim world they perceive the U.N. as very dominated by the U.S. I know Americans don't perceive it that way, but that does heavily condition their attitude.

KALB: Okay, question right here, please.

QUESTIONER: Hi. (Inaudible) -- into interaction.

You know, civil society often makes the claim that they are acting on behalf of public opinion. Is there a correlation between gaps of public opinion and policy that is filled by civil society, that is reflected in the data you're having? In other words, do those gaps between what leaders think the public is saying and the public is actually saying -- are those filled by non-state actors pushing for those, or is that simply an illusion that civil society has of itself?

KULL: It depends upon which civil society organization. I mean, the NRA is a civil society. Al Qaeda is, arguably, a civil society -- it's an NGO. So it's not completely clear --

KALB: It is?

KULL: Yeah, it is. (Laughs.)

So I think you'll just have to go through them one by one, but a lot of the ones that come to mind -- human rights, the environment, things like that, those, yes, those tend to be ones where the publics say, yes, we want more of that.

PATRICK: And there's modest support for giving -- I believe, for giving civil society organizations, for instance, more of a forum within some international organizations, particularly the United Nations as well.

KALB: Yes, yes.

KULL: And they have a good image. No doubt about it, NGOs, in general -- (inaudible) --

KALB: Gentleman in the third row.

QUESTIONER: My name is Mike Hager, Education for Employment Foundation.

My question is, what is the future of the public opinion process? I'm thinking particularly of the access to the Internet, and whether, for example, could this process lead, in terms of governance, to international or -- national or international town meetings that would then vie with the organized governance?

KALB: The answer is, yes.

KULL: Yeah. It's something I'm very interested in working on. I think that ultimately you're going to see that it could become like almost a fourth branch of government. Because, particularly now with the Internet, you have the means to set up, kind of, these "citizen panels" that are linked up and can -- and be very responsive, and give input on an ongoing basis. They can get information about policy issues, so that their responses can be sophisticated; and deal with issues that you can't deal with with the standard poll.

So I think this really will be a real trend of the future, because this dissatisfaction with democracy around the world -- even though you have overwhelming support for democracy in principle, the dissatisfaction is enormous. And there's a -- there is a negative correlation between confidence in government and Freedom House ratings. People are really demanding a lot more democracy.

KALB: No, but the answer to your question too, in terms of just old fashioned journalism, when there were three networks, and we learned that we can do something from Europe and do it live, we immediately went into that kind of discussion. So it's only a matter of people doing it. The technology is there.

Young lady right there -- right in the middle.

QUESTIONER: Thank you, Marvin. "Young." I appreciate that. (Laughter.)

KALB: We're all young -- (inaudible) --

QUESTIONER: Okay, that's good. Juliana Pilon. I wrote a book called, "Why America is Such a Hard Sell."

Steve's point about the publics of the Middle East thinking that the United States dominates in the U.N. reminds me of a question connected a little bit to Mitzi's. What is the knowledge base? Do you have any information about the knowledge base of the publics?

Andrew Kohut's book, "America Against the World," was very useful in this regard because he did do some of that, and found a tremendous discrepancy between reality and illusion. So, thank you.

KALB: Thank you.

KULL: You know, that's -- we do try to test for knowledge on key issues whenever we can. It's highly variable, and in some cases it's heavily skewed. People really have the wrong notion, like the belief that -- among Americans, that 20 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid.

But in most cases what you have is, you do have this information out there but it's all over the map. I like to say, you know, yeah, there are a lot of stupid people out there but they're stupid in different ways -- (laughter) -- and so that stupidity kind of cancels out. (Laughter.)

And when all that stupidity cancels out, there's still a kind of dominant trend. And that dominant trend, curiously, is actually pretty smart in many cases. I mean, if you had a --

KALB: (Off mike.) (Laughter.)

PATRICK: You do find some issues like climate change -- one of the things that came out on the climate change debate was that, sort of, the more information people had about it, sort of, the more they tended to be willing to, sort of, do something about it.

KALB: We're going to ask two people to ask successive questions. The gentleman in the second row; gentleman about the eighth row.

QUESTIONER: I would like to ask a question that really underlies several questions that have been posed, it's the effect of the economic period we're in on many of the questions, not just on economic -- trade issues, but even on -- on any issues, it seemed that would cost -- seem to cost money.

Now, you could trace back in the past concern on jobs, and our economy, and how they affect international issues. And you could do it now, and see if there is an effect, or it's just only that it's a greater concern. (Inaudible) -- one has to look at, I think, underlying factors beyond the ones we're looking at centrally.

KALB: Okay. The gentleman, please.

QUESTIONER: Lowell Christy, Cultural Strategies Institute.

The question relates to the evolution of your program. During the Cold War, the DEW Line, Defense (sic) Early Warning system, was a part of the pillars of defense. Could we do something analogous to a "social" early warning system?

And my comments relate to our experience in Croatia, Uganda, et cetera, where literally you can monitor the rhetoric; in a sense, diagram the thought processes; and see when it goes to a tipping point.

So could it evolve towards a "social early warning system," or a "SEW Line," I guess?

KALB: Thank you very much.

Stewart, you want to try that?

PATRICK: Yes, sure. Let me take the second one first.

That question gets us a little bit out into -- out of the, sort of, international institutions and global governance framework, but -- (inaudible) -- it's a very interesting one. And I know it's -- in a previous life I had some stuff to do with, sort of, early warning models. And, you know, there are a whole number of different models out there that try to anticipate, and look at some of the -- some of the factors behind, sort of, societal breakdown and societal upheaval.

So I think that, you know, as technology gets more improved -- you know, not only monitoring of, you know, hate radio broadcasts, as people have begun to do, but also look at, sort of, data mining as The Fund for Peace and others do, would -- I think you would be able, probably, to have a, you know, much more sort of a hand, you know, on the pulse. Rather than sort of like a farmer's almanac of what's going on Burundi, you could actually have something a little bit more like a, you know, a -- what do you call those things that predict the weather? Anyway --

MR. : (Off mike.) A barometer.

PATRICK: Yes, a barometer. That's -- (inaudible) -- (laughter) -- thank you. Trying to pull things out, yeah. (Laughter.) So that was -- (inaudible) --

MR. : (Off mike.)

PATRICK: That's right.

So anyway, do you want to -- do you want to take the issue of the cost, and --

KULL: Something that we do try to do is incorporate cost factors into poll questions.

One that we just released yesterday, a poll we did for the World Bank about climate change, and we actually translated, we said -- we took 1 percent of GDP and said, "Would you be willing to spend this much more, on a per capita basis, to address the problem of climate change;" and then, "what about 0.5 percent," and so on, so that that you really get some concrete -- you know, some real costs that's very specific. And it's surprising what people will spend.

We also addressed issues about budgets, where we actually give people budgets that, on-line, they can actually manipulate the budget one way or another, so that you can really get public opinion, and where they're really making trade-offs, things like that.

So, yes, I think these kinds of things, again, can be very much be integrated effectively into the polling process.

KALB: I think we've got about three minutes left, and I see about five hands, or six hands up now, so obviously you're not all going to get an opportunity.

But I see one hand here; there's one hand over there.

And you want -- did you --

QUESTIONER: (Off mike.) Yes, I do.

KALB: Okay. So let's have three questions, three brief answers.

Fire away.

QUESTIONER: Lucy Webster, from Economists for Peace and Security.

Do you think you can say that the people who are worried about -- that there are only relatively few people worried about black helicopters in the U.N.? And if so, where do all the anti-globalization people come from -- like Seattle, and so forth?

KALB: Okay, yes, please?

QUESTIONER: Rachel Robbins, IFC.

You've talked about multilateralism, but there's also a growth in regional institutions. And does your research show what (issues) people think are better solved at a global level, versus regional level?

KALB: Okay, finally -- go ahead.

QUESTIONER: I'm Rachel Schneller, here at the Council here in Washington, D.C.

I was wondering if you had done any research on if there is a public-opinion ignorance penalty for officials? I mean, for -- (laughter) -- officials who are ignorant of the -- the ones who say, "Oh, I can't do this because the public wouldn't support me," but they're actually wrong, the public would support them. Have you been able to find that that ignorance actually has any negative impact on the official?

KALB: Okay, if we're to be serious about a cutoff at 1:30, be brief.

KULL: Okay.

Yes, I mean, clearly policymakers, when they get out of line with the public, it does eventually catch up with them. I mean, I think that the Bush administration really stretched the rubber band. And I think of it as rubber band -- you can go pretty far, but at a certain point it just starts pulling back, and then, and you get --

KALB: (Inaudible.)

KULL: Well, no, no. (Laughs.)

KALB: (Inaudible.)

KULL: (Inaudible.) But, I mean, so that it pulls back and you're -- and the policymaker is left standing there.

KALB: (Inaudible) -- please. It's not fair.

Go ahead, Stew.

PATRICK: Okay. Yeah, (I'm sorry that we have to move on ?).

On regional versus global, we do have under, particularly the second thing on International Institutions, there's an analysis that includes a number of different international institutions -- regional institutions where there is sufficient data. There's also a comparison -- in the discussion of the U.N., as to what should be dealt with by the United Nations, which can be dealt with by regional organizations, and what should be dealt with by national governments. I'll probably, rather than trying to go through that, refer you to that.

Lucy's question, 'only a few people worried about anti- globalization -- I mean, sort of, black helicopter versus Seattle,' you know, a lot of the -- there's not a lot of overlap, necessarily, between some of these groups. There can be -- and, you know, you also see some partisan divides on where multilateralism -- I mean, Republicans, you know, traditionally, frankly, in terms of the way multilateralism has been defined, in terms of, you know, free trade, have been, in a sense, been sort of on the multilateral side, pushing WTO, Doha Round, et cetera, more than the Democrats.

But I would say, with respect to those who are really antagonistic to multilateralism, they come in a number of different flavors.

KALB: I think that we are definitely out of time. I want to wish both of you good luck on your launch.

PATRICK: Could I just say -- could I just say thank you to one person who is fabulous, my RA -- (inaudible) -- who did tremendous work on this. (Applause.)

KALB: And as you can see from the number of questions, this is something that people are interested in. So I hope that you will get the money, and be able to do it quite frequently. Thank you very much.

PATRICK: Thank you so much, Marvin. Thank you.






Top Stories on CFR

Genocide and Mass Atrocities

Thirty years ago, Rwanda’s government began a campaign to eradicate the country’s largest minority group. In just one hundred days in 1994, roving militias killed around eight hundred thousand people. Would-be killers were incited to violence by the radio, which encouraged extremists to take to the streets with machetes. The United Nations stood by amid the bloodshed, and many foreign governments, including the United States, declined to intervene before it was too late. What got in the way of humanitarian intervention? And as violent conflict now rages at a clip unseen since then, can the international community learn from the mistakes of its past?


The IMF and World Bank’s spring meetings will focus on the prospects for a soft landing after years of global economic turbulence. But major challenges remain, including growing climate finance needs and persistently high global debt levels.

South Korea

The center-left Democratic Party added to its legislative majority after the recent parliamentary election, which would deal a blow to President Yoon Suk Yeol’s domestic reform agenda and possibly his efforts to improve ties with Japan.