International Organization

Research Article

Audience Beliefs and International Organization Legitimacy

Terrence L. Chapmana1

a1 Department of Government, University of Texas at Austin. E-mail:


Recent work suggests that multilateral security institutions, such as the UN Security Council, can influence foreign policy through public opinion. According to this view, authorization can increase public support for foreign policy, freeing domestic constraints. Governments that feel constrained by public opinion may thus alter their foreign policies to garner external authorization. These claims challenge traditional realist views about the role of international organizations in security affairs, which tend to focus on direct enforcement mechanisms and neglect indirect channels of influence. To examine these claims, this article investigates the first link in this causal chain—the effect of institutional statements on public opinion. Strategic information arguments, as opposed to arguments about the symbolic legitimacy of specific organizations or the procedural importance of consultation, posit that the effect of institutional statements on public opinion is conditional on public perceptions of member states' interests. This article tests this conditional relationship in the context of changes in presidential approval surrounding military disputes, using a measure of preference distance between the United States and veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council. Findings indicate that short-term changes in presidential approval surrounding the onset of military disputes in the United States between 1946 and 2001 have been significantly larger when accompanied by a positive resolution for a Security Council that is more distant in terms of foreign policy preferences. The article also discusses polling data during the 1990s and 2000s that support the strategic information perspective.


I would like to thank David Bearce, Cliff Carrubba, Zaryab Iqbal, Stephen Jesse, Pat McDonald, Jon Pevehouse, Rafal Raciborski, Dani Reiter, Eric Reinhardt, Alex Thompson, Daron Shaw, Peter Trubowitz, Nick Valentino, Harrison Wagner, Scott Wolford, Doug Woodwell, Amy Yuen, two anonymous reviewers, and the editors of International Organization for helpful suggestions.