Dellmuth and Fornborg map legitimacy beliefs toward six key international organizations, among them the UN, drawing on uniquely coordinated elite and citizen survey data from Brazil, Germany, the Philippines, Russia and the US. Based on recent research , they find a notable elite–citizen gap for all six organizations studied, in four of the five countries, and for all six different elite types.

Dellmuth and Fornborg discuss their results with a view to three core aspects of the UN Common Agenda: “build trust”, “leave no one behind” and “listen to and work with youth”. By way of conclusion, they make three proposals for building trust in the UN, privileging raising awareness about the legitimacy gap, communication about UN procedures and performances, and engagement with young people for the sake of more legitimate policy solutions. 

A particular headline issue around legitimacy in global governance is the relationship between elites – here understood as individuals in leading positions in society and politics – and citizens at large. Episodes such as Brexit and the rise of populism suggest a possible divergence in views of global governance between political and societal leaders on the one hand and citizens on the other. A common argument purports that today’s elites, as the main winners of globalization, are out of touch with ordinary citizens, who bear the brunt of its burdens. The alleged result is a shortfall in effective and democratic global cooperation.

This paper is part of a series that supports the Stockholm+50: Unlocking a better future report.

Corrected 22 June 2022 to acknowledge the LegGov programme as the source of data for the report.