Does international pooling of authority affect the perceived legitimacy of global governance?

  • Brilé Anderson
  • Thomas BernauerEmail author
  • Aya Kachi


Recent instances of political backlash against global governance efforts as well as conventional wisdom suggest that there is a link between shifting decision-making authority from the domestic to the global level, on the one hand, and the legitimacy of global governance institutions as perceived by citizens and other stakeholders on the other. We use a population-based survey experiment in Germany and the United States (N = 1600 each) to investigate whether increasing the authority of a global governance institution negatively affects citizens’ legitimacy perceptions. The empirical focus is on climate change, a costly and paradigmatic global governance effort. The results show that shifts of political authority, notably changes towards majority decision making at the international level and automatic implementation of international decisions domestically, do not, on average, significantly affect citizens’ legitimacy perceptions of global governance institutions. Interestingly, the absence of the presumed negative effect is not due to citizens’ incapacity to understand the implications of increasing international authority in the sense that increasing international authority results in a loss of control over climate policy in Germany and the United States. Rather, legitimacy perceptions appear to be shaped by citizens’ perceptions of procedural and performance quality of such efforts in more general terms, and not by authority levels per se. Overall, these findings suggest that there could be more room for increasing the authority of global governance institutions, provided this can be done in ways that ascertain high procedural and output performance quality.


International organizations Authority Legitimacy Public opinion Climate governance 



The research for this paper was funded by the ERC Advanced Grant ‘Sources of Legitimacy in Global Environmental Governance’ (Grant: 295456) and supported by ETH Zürich. We are grateful for comments by Michael Zürn, Jonas Tallberg, Zorzeta Bakaki, Mike Hudecheck, Vally Koubi, Liam McGrath, Quynh Nguyen, Irina Shaymerdenova, and Mike Tomz on earlier versions of this paper.

Supplementary material (2.5 mb)
ESM 1 (ZIP 2587 kb)


  1. Anderson, K., & Slaughter, A.-M. (2005). Squaring the circle? Reconciling sovereignty and global governance through global government networks. Harvard Law Review, 118(4), 1255–1312.Google Scholar
  2. Bernauer, T. (2013). Climate change politics. Annual Review of Political Science, 16, 421–448.Google Scholar
  3. Bernauer, T., & Gampfer, R. (2013). Effects of civil society involvement on popular legitimacy of global environmental governance. Global Environmental Change, 23(2), 439–449.Google Scholar
  4. Bernauer, T., & McGrath, L. (2016). Simple reframing unlikely to boost public support for climate policy. Nature Climate Change, 6(7), 680–683.Google Scholar
  5. Bernstein, S. (2011). Legitimacy in intergovernmental and non-state global governance. Review of International Political Economy, 18(1), 17–51.Google Scholar
  6. Blake, D. J., & Payton, A. L. (2015). Balancing design objectives: Analyzing new data on voting rules in intergovernmental organizations. The Review of International Organizations, 10(3), 377–402.Google Scholar
  7. Blondel, J., Sinnott, R., & Svensson, P. (1998). People and Parliament in the European Union: participation, democracy, and legitimacy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bodansky, D. (1999). The Legitimacy of International Governance: A Coming Challenge for International Environmental Law? American Journal of International Law, 93(3), 596–624.Google Scholar
  9. Buchanan, A., & Keohane, R. O. (2006). The legitimacy of global governance institutions. Ethics & international affairs, 20(4), 405–437.Google Scholar
  10. Bulkeley, H., & Newell, P. (2015). Governing climate change. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  11. Caplan, B. (2001). Rational irrationality and the microfoundations of political failure. Public Choice, 107(3-4), 311–331.Google Scholar
  12. Chong, D., & Druckman, J. N. (2007). Framing theory. Annual Review of Political Science, 10, 103–126.Google Scholar
  13. Council of Foreign Relations (2015). Two cheers for the paris agreement on climate change (December 12). Available at Accessed 2 August 2016.
  14. Della Porta, D., Andretta, M., Mosca, L., & Reiter, H. (2006). Globalization from below: Transnational activists and protest networks. London: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  15. Dellmuth, L. M., & Tallberg, J. (2015). The social legitimacy of international organisations: Interest representation, institutional performance, and confidence extrapolation in the United Nations. Review of International Studies, 41(3), 451–475.Google Scholar
  16. Dingwerth, K. (2017). Field recognition and the state prerogative: Why democratic legitimation recedes in private transnational sustainability regulation. Politics and Governance, 5(1), 75–84.Google Scholar
  17. Downs, A. (1984). An economic theory of political action in a democracy. In T. Ferguson & J. Rogers (Eds.), The Political Economy: Readings in the politics and economics of American public policy (pp. 12–26). Armonk: M. E. Sharpe Publishers.Google Scholar
  18. Eichenberg, R. C., & Dalton, R. J. (2007). Post-Maastricht blues: The transformation of citizen support for European integration, 1973–2004. Acta Politica, 42(2), 128–152.Google Scholar
  19. Esty, D. C. (2002). The World Trade Organization's legitimacy crisis. World Trade Review, 1(1), 7–22.Google Scholar
  20. Gabel, M., & Scheve, K. (2007). Estimating the Effect of Elite Communications on Public Opinion Using Instrumental Variables. American Journal of Political Science, 51(4), 1013–1028.Google Scholar
  21. Gallup International Association. (2005). Voice of the People. ICPSR04636-v1. Zürich: Gallup International Association.Google Scholar
  22. Gibson, J. L., & Caldeira, G. A. (1995). The Legitimacy of the Court of Justice in the European Union: Models of Institutional Support. American Political Science Review, 89(2), 356–376.Google Scholar
  23. Grant, R. W., & Keohane, R. O. (2005). Accountability and abuses of power in world politics. American Political Science Review, 99(1), 29–43.Google Scholar
  24. Hessami, Z. (2011). What determines trust in international organizations? An empirical analysis for the IMF, the World Bank, and the WTO. Working Paper 44. Konstanz, Germany: Department of Economics, University of Konstanz.Google Scholar
  25. Hibbing, J. R., & Theiss-Morse, E. (2002). Stealth democracy: Americans' beliefs about how government should work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  26. Hickmann, T. (2016). Rethinking Authority in Global Climate Governance: How Transnational Climate Initiatives Relate to the International Climate Regime. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  27. Hobolt, S. B. (2012). Public opinion and integration. In E. Jones, A. Menon, & S. Weatherill (Eds.), The Oxford Handbook of the European Union. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  28. Holcombe, R. G. (2006). Should We Have Acted Thirty Years Ago to Prevent Global Climate Change? The Independent Review, 11(2), 283.Google Scholar
  29. Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2005). Calculation, community and cues public opinion on European integration. European Union Politics, 6(4), 419–443.Google Scholar
  30. Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2009). A post functionalist theory of European integration: From permissive consensus to constraining dissensus. British Journal of Political Science, 39(1), 1–23.Google Scholar
  31. Hooghe, L., & Marks, G. (2015). Delegation and pooling in international organizations. The Review of International Organizations, 10(3), 305–328.Google Scholar
  32. Johnson, T. (2011). Guilt by association: The link between states’ influence and the legitimacy of intergovernmental organizations. The Review of International Organizations, 6(1), 57–84.Google Scholar
  33. Kachi, A., Bernauer, T., & Gampfer, R. (2015). Climate policy in hard times: Are the pessimists right? Ecological Economics, 114, 227–241.Google Scholar
  34. Keohane, R. O., & Nye, J. S. (2003). Redefining accountability for global governance. In M. Kahler & D. A. Lake (Eds.), Governance in a global economy: political authority in transition (pp. 386–411). New Haven: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Keohane, R. O., & Victor, D. G. (2011). The regime complex for climate change. Perspectives on Politics, 9(1), 7–23.Google Scholar
  36. Koppell, J. G. S. (2008). Global governance organizations: Legitimacy and authority in conflict. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 18(2), 177–203.Google Scholar
  37. Kriesi, H., Grande, E., Lachat, R., Dolezal, M., Bornschier, S., & Frey, T. (2008). Western European politics in the age of globalization.
  38. Lavrakas, P. J. (2008). Encyclopedia of survey research methods.
  39. Levi, M., & Murphy, G. H. (2006). Coalitions of contention: The case of the WTO protests in Seattle. Political Studies, 54(4), 651–670.Google Scholar
  40. Levi, M., Sacks, A., & Tyler, T. (2009). Conceptualizing legitimacy, measuring legitimating beliefs. American Behavioral Scientist, 53(3), 354–375.Google Scholar
  41. Li, K.-W. (2003). Capitalist Development and Economism in East Asia: The Rise of Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan and South Korea. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  42. Lupia, A. (2015). Uninformed: Why People Seem to Know So Little about Politics and What We Can Do about It. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  43. McLaren, L. M. (2002). Public support for the European Union: cost/benefit analysis or perceived cultural threat? The Journal of Politics, 64(2), 551–566.Google Scholar
  44. Nielson, D., Hyde, S., & Kelley, J. (2019). The sources of perceived legitimacy for election observation organizations: Three experiments on non- governmental organizations. The Review of International Organizations. Google Scholar
  45. Norris, P. (2000). Global governance and cosmopolitan citizens. In J. S. Nye Jr. & J. D. Donahue (Eds.), Governance in a globalizing world (pp. 155–177). Harrisburg: Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  46. Rogelj, J., Meinshausen, M., & Knutti, R. (2012). Global warming under old and new scenarios using IPCC climate sensitivity range estimates. Nature Climate Change, 2(4), 248–253.Google Scholar
  47. Schmidtke, H. (2019). Speaking democracy: Why international organizations adopt a democratic rhetoric. The Review of International Organizations. Google Scholar
  48. Schlipphak, B. (2015). Measuring attitudes toward regional organizations outside Europe. The Review of International Organizations, 10(3), 351–375.Google Scholar
  49. Scott, R. (2013). Institutions and organizations: Ideas, interests, and identities. London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
  50. Semenza, J. C., Wilson, D. J., Parra, J., Bontempo, B. D., Hart, M., Sailor, D. J., & George, L. A. (2008). Public perception and behavior change in relationship to hot weather and air pollution. Environmental Research, 107(3), 401–411.Google Scholar
  51. Slaughter, A.-M. (2005). Winning Back the World’s Trust. Global Agenda, 1–5.Google Scholar
  52. Suchman, M. C. (1995). Managing legitimacy: Strategic and institutional approaches. Academy of Management Review, 20(3), 571–610.Google Scholar
  53. Tallberg, J., & Zürn, M. (2019). The legitimacy and legitimation of international organizations: Introduction and framework. The Review of International Organizations.
  54. Vihma, A. (2011). A climate of consensus: The UNFCCC faces challenges of legitimacy and effectiveness (Briefing Paper 75). Helsinki: Finnish Institute for International Affairs.Google Scholar
  55. Voeten, E. (2013). Public Opinion and the Legitimacy of International Courts. Theoretical Inquiries in Law, 14(2), 411–436.Google Scholar
  56. Wilkinson, R., & Hughes, S. (Eds.). (2002). Global governance: Critical perspectives. Abindgon: Psychology Press.Google Scholar
  57. Wolf, K. D. (2007). 11 Private actors and the legitimacy of governance beyond the state. In A. Benz & Y. Papadopoulos (Eds.), Governance and Democracy: Comparing national, European and international experiences (pp. 200–227). Oxford: Taylor and Francis Group.Google Scholar
  58. Zürn, M. (2015). Beyond Anarchy: Authority and Rule in Global Governance. Politische Vierteljahresschrift, 56(2), 319–333.Google Scholar
  59. Zürn, M., Binder, M., & Ecker-Ehrhardt, M. (2012). International Authority and Its Politicization. International Theory, 4(1), 69–106.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Environment DirectorateOECDParisFrance
  2. 2.Institute of Science, Technology and PolicyETH ZurichZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Faculty of Business and EconomicsUniversity of BaselBaselSwitzerland

Personalised recommendations