The power of international organizations (IOs) such as the European Union, United Nations Security Council, and World Health Organization, has expanded considerably in the past three decades, raising questions about the legitimacy of IOs. Legitimacy refers to individual beliefs in the rightful authority of IOs. It is a central quality that helps IOs to effectively address major policy problems such as the adverse impacts of climate change on human security or unstable global financial markets.

This project examines when, how, and why political elites influence citizens’ legitimacy beliefs in IOs. Citizens rarely have sufficient time and knowledge to form independent and stable opinions about IOs, making them susceptible to elite communication. Drawing on framing and legitimacy theory in social psychology and political science, this project develops innovative hypotheses about the conditions under which political communication sways citizens’ legitimacy beliefs. The hypotheses are tested through original survey experiments and existing large-scale survey datasets such as the World Values Survey and the Eurobarometer. For this purpose, the project leader has been involved in the development of a survey question battery for the 7th wave of the World Values Survey that will be released during 2020. The data analysis focuses on a number of international organizations in economic, environmental, and security governance.

In all, the project will provide domestic and international policy-makers with evidence on how they can enhance IOs’ legitimacy, and by extension, the ability of IOs to engage in sustainable governance by achieving compliance with internationally prescribed policy and reforms. Its results are regularly presented at conferences and presentations, and are published in high-impact peer-review journals, policy reports, and with leading international academic presses.

Project leader: Lisa Maria Dellmuth
Funded by: Swedish Research Council
Funding period: 2016-2021
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