The United Nations headquarters in New York City.
The United Nations headquarters in New York City. (Angela Weiss/AFP via Getty Images)

The United Nations General Assembly begins its high-level general debate next week, during which heads of state are expected to address current crises facing the organization and its member nations, including the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and the situation in Afghanistan. A Pew Research Center analysis finds that the UN is seen in a positive light by most in the 17 publics surveyed this year: A median of 67% express a favorable opinion of the UN, compared with a median of 29% who have an unfavorable opinion.

This Pew Research Center analysis focuses on attitudes toward the United Nations and its response to global climate change around the world. For non-U.S. data, this post draws on nationally representative surveys of 16,254 adults from March 12 to May 26, 2021, in 16 advanced economies. All surveys were conducted over the phone with adults in Canada, Belgium, France, Germany, Greece, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan.

In the United States, we surveyed 2,596 adults from Feb. 1 to 7, 2021. Everyone who took part in the U.S. survey is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories.

This study was conducted in places where nationally representative telephone surveys are feasible. Due to the coronavirus outbreak, face-to-face interviewing is not currently possible in many parts of the world.

Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses. Visit our methodology database for more information about the survey methods outside the U.S. For respondents in the U.S., read more about the ATP’s methodology.

A bar chart showing that the UN is seen favorably across many publics

Majorities in Canada and the United States have a positive opinion of the UN (71% and 59%, respectively). Across the nine European countries polled, half or more are favorable toward the organization, ranging from 50% in Greece to 84% in Sweden. Greece has the largest share of adults (44%) who hold unfavorable views of the UN in Europe.

Opinion among the Asia-Pacific publics varies considerably but is still more favorable toward the UN than not. About two-thirds or more in South Korea, Singapore, New Zealand and Australia have a positive view of the UN. Yet fewer than half in Japan and Taiwan say the same. In Japan, where unfavorable views of the UN reached a historic high in 2020, people are now relatively split (14% did not offer an opinion). Only in Taiwan does a majority (57%) express an unfavorable view of the UN.

Favorable views of the UN have increased significantly in about half of the 13 countries where the question was asked in both 2020 and 2021.

A table showing that favorable views of the UN bounce back from all-time lows in some countries

The largest increases come from Italy and Japan. Among Italians and Japanese, positive opinions of the UN increased 12 percentage points in the past year. Favorable opinion toward the UN in Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands, Spain, Belgium and Australia also increased significantly since 2020.

A chart showing that those on the left are more favorable toward the UN in some countries

In some countries, favorable views of the UN are related, at least in part, to ideological differences. The largest difference is in the U.S., where nearly eight-in-ten liberals view the UN positively but just 37% of conservatives say the same. In Australia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, Canada, the United Kingdom and Germany, roughly three-quarters or more on the left give positive assessments of the UN, while roughly two-thirds or fewer on the right in these countries hold this view.

In some publics, those with more education are more positive on the UN than those with less education. For example, in the Netherlands and the UK, roughly eight-in-ten of those with a postsecondary degree or more have a favorable view of the organization, while roughly two-thirds of those without a postsecondary degree say the same.

Favorable views of the UN are also associated with confidence in various world leaders. Across all publics surveyed, those with confidence in U.S. President Joe Biden were more likely to have a positive view of the UN than those with no confidence in Biden. The same pattern holds for confidence in German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron across every public surveyed. In a few places, the same holds for confidence in Chinese President Xi Jinping. There is no consistent pattern on views of the UN when it comes to confidence in Russian President Vladimir Putin.

A bar chart showing that many see the UN response to climate change favorably

The UN’s response to climate change is seen in a positive light by many across the 17 publics surveyed. A median of 56% say the UN is doing a good job dealing with climate change, while a median of 39% say the organization is doing a bad job. Only the European Union’s response to climate change is rated more favorably by the publics polled, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey. Publics rate the UN’s response similarly to that of their own society, and well ahead of the U.S. and China’s handling of climate change.

While 63% in Canada view the UN’s dealing with climate change in a positive light, 51% of Americans say the same. And majorities in five of the nine European publics surveyed rate the UN as doing a good job. However, around half or more in the Netherlands, Belgium, France and Germany say the organization is doing a bad job.

Views of the UN’s climate response are largely positive across the Asia-Pacific publics surveyed. Majorities in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand say the UN is doing a good job in its response to climate change. People in Japan and Taiwan are more divided in their assessment of the UN’s handling of climate change, and more than one-in-ten in each country did not provide a response.

Those who laud the UN for its climate response are much more likely to also have a positive overall view of the organization. In every public surveyed, there are double-digit differences between those who say the UN has done a good job dealing with global climate change and those who say it has done a bad job. The largest difference is in the U.S., where roughly eight-in-ten (81%) of those who praise the UN on climate change have a favorable view of the organization – roughly double the percentage among those who criticize the UN’s climate response (40%).

The survey also found that there is little agreement over whether international climate efforts will be more of a harm or a benefit to national economies. However, in many places, those with favorable views of the UN are more likely to think international climate efforts will mostly benefit their economy, as opposed to mostly harming it or having no effect at all. Similarly, the same survey found that those with a favorable view of the UN were more likely to think international efforts could successfully reduce the effects of climate change.

Note: Here are the questions used for this analysis, along with responses. Visit our methodology database for more information about the survey methods outside the U.S. For respondents in the U.S., read more about the ATP’s methodology.

Moira Fagan  is a research analyst focusing on global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.
J.J. Moncus  is a research assistant focusing on global attitudes research at Pew Research Center.