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

Abstract

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.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    http://climateactiontracker.org/

  2. 2.

    We randomized the order of the five legitimacy items and response scales between participants, and then followed up with the manipulation check.

  3. 3.

    Other studies measure related concepts such as confidence or trust as proxies for legitimacy. We argue that these are necessary conditions of legitimacy but not sufficient. For example, it is possible to be confident in an institution to perform its duties, e.g., Stalin’s Communist Regime, but not to view its authority as being appropriately exercised, i.e., legitimate.

  4. 4.

    We opted for an ordinal scale for these two questions instead of a binary (Agree/Disagree) based on participant feedback from a pilot survey at the end of 2014. In the 2014 pilot survey, we randomized binary and ordinal response categories between participants. Several participants who received the binary response option commented that they were unable to express nuanced opinions, while we received no comments from those who received the ordinal scale. This is why we decided to use the ordinal response category in the present survey.

  5. 5.

    Bootstrapping is a way of estimating statistical parameters from the sample by resampling with replacement. Like other non-parametric approaches, bootstrapping does not make any assumptions about the distribution of the sample. The main assumption behind bootstrapping is that the sample distribution is a reasonably good approximation of the population distribution. This is a reasonable assumption in our case because YouGov provided weighted samples of German and American populations. It is for this reason that we chose bootstrapping over other simulation methods that generate new data as a means of estimating these standard errors. In addition, other simulation techniques would have required assumptions about the distribution of the data, which we prefer to avoid.

  6. 6.

    There is some debate over how much iteration is necessary. We started with 10,000 and shifted to 1000 after initial results were similar.

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Acknowledgements

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.

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Anderson, B., Bernauer, T. & Kachi, A. Does international pooling of authority affect the perceived legitimacy of global governance?. Rev Int Organ 14, 661–683 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11558-018-9341-4

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Keywords

  • International organizations
  • Authority
  • Legitimacy
  • Public opinion
  • Climate governance