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United Nations

Paying UN Dues

A majority favors the US paying its UN dues in full, including its UN peacekeeping dues, rising to three in four when given information about spending on the UN and UN peacekeeping relative to other foreign policy budget items. Political candidates who favor paying UN dues are viewed more favorably than those who do not.

A majority of Americans has consistently shown a readiness to pay UN dues. A majority has consistently said that it favors paying UN dues in full. Most recently, the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations found in a poll conducted in June 2002 that 58% of Americans favor the “US paying its UN dues in full.” Only 32% opposed this action; 10% were not sure or declined to answer.[1] The same percentage favored doing so when PIPA asked the same question in June 1996, while in April 1995 65% were in favor. [2]

An August 2003 Gallup poll found only minority support for reducing US funding of the UN. Following a battery of questions about UN performance after the Iraqi war, Gallup asked respondents if they "think the United States should...increase its funding of the United Nations, keep it the same, or decrease its funding of the United Nations." A majority of 61% said the US should either "increase funding of the United Nations" (11%) or "keep it the same" (50%). Only 37% favored reducing it.[3]

Respondents have also favored paying back dues owed by the US. Zogby found 62% agreeing that "the United States should pay all its back dues" (December 1998).[4] In August 1998, 73% favored paying dues when hearing the information that "All members of the United Nations are required to pay dues under the UN Charter. In recent years the United States has not been paying all its dues, and in December it will be two full years behind" (Wirthlin Group).[5]

Furthermore, it appears that much of the opposition to paying UN dues is not derived from an intrinsic resistance to the UN but rather from reservations about UN performance. In an April 1998 PIPA poll, support for paying UN dues went up to 78% when this was made contingent on the UN making financial reforms.[6]

When presented pro and con arguments, in the April 1998 PIPA poll, respondents found arguments in favor of paying UN dues more convincing. An overwhelming 73% agreed with an argument that confirmed the value of the general idea of the UN saying, "The US was one of the original founders of the UN and has benefited from its existence" and "the US has an obligation to...pay its full dues." An argument that challenged the idea of the UN, by saying "the UN is...meddling in areas where the US, not the UN, should be taking the lead," was found convincing by just 28%, while 69% found it unconvincing. The argument that paying UN dues "is a bad investment" because "the UN is ineffective and wasteful" was found convincing by only 28%.[7]

An October 2006 PIPA/KN poll found evidence that support for paying UN dues would be substantially higher if respondents had a better understanding about the actual amount of spending. Respondents were initially asked whether they favor their member of Congress voting to pay US dues for UN peacekeeping. A relatively modest 51% said that they would, while 42% were opposed. However later in the same poll respondents were presented the foreign policy budget including the spending on the UN and UN peacekeeping compared to other items. With this information, 75% increased (48%) or left unchanged (27%) the US contribution to the UN system.[8]

In the February 1994 poll, respondents were also presented with arguments for and against paying UN peacekeeping dues. The arguments against paying fared poorly. Fifty-seven percent found unconvincing (40% convincing) the argument that: "UN peacekeeping is a nice idea, but with the American economy having the troubles that it is, we should postpone paying our full dues until things get better here."

A massive 78% found unconvincing (21% convincing) the argument that: "UN peacekeeping is a bad idea. It tries to solve other people's problems in parts of the world that are of little concern to the US. We should pay as little as possible for UN peacekeeping--preferably nothing."

By contrast, two arguments in favor of paying dues fared very well. Sixty-six percent found convincing (unconvincing: 32%) the argument that: "UN peacekeeping helps contribute to stability in the world. This makes it less likely the US will need to do expensive things like sending military aid and US troops to other countries. In the long run, if we don't spend money on UN peacekeeping we will probably end up spending more money on defense."

A similar 65% found convincing (unconvincing: 32%) the argument that: "Since all peacekeeping operations must be approved by the US, and the US agreed to pay a certain share of the UN peacekeeping budget, it is hypocritical for the US to not pay its dues."[9]

Attitudes Toward Candidates

In September 1996, PIPA tested the issue of UN dues in the context of a congressional election, by presenting respondents with two sharply worded attack ads. Respondents first heard:

I would like you to imagine that there is an upcoming election for Congress in your district. For the sake of this exercise, let's say that your Congressman is named John Allen, and he is being challenged by someone named Tom Miller. I am now going to read you two political ads, and afterward I will ask you which candidate you would be more inclined to vote for.

Then respondents heard a strong attack on the incumbent for his vote in favor of paying UN dues:

Congressman Allen--he's voted again and again to pour your tax money into the United Nations. Most members of Congress have voted to limit US payments to the UN until that money is spent more wisely. But Allen has voted to keep doling it out. Tom Miller says we need that money for problems here at home. Stop your tax dollars from supporting UN bureaucracy and waste. Vote for Tom Miller.

This was followed by Congressman Allen's rebuttal ad:

Tom Miller wants to make Uncle Sam a deadbeat by breaking America's commitment to pay its dues to the United Nations. Congressman Allen says Americans keep their promises. Besides, UN dues are just 1% of what we spend on defense. Congressman Allen knows that if we do not support peace now, we will probably wind up spending more on war later. Reelect Congressman Allen.

Fifty-six percent said they would be more inclined to vote for the incumbent who favored paying dues, as compared to 37% who favored the challenger who called for holding back--a 19% advantage to the candidate who favored paying UN dues.[10]

The Wirthlin Group in August 1998 also asked whether, if a member of Congress's vote against paying UN dues led to the US losing its vote in the General Assembly, this would affect respondents' votes. Among the 66% who said it would, 49% of the total sample were more inclined to vote against a member who voted against paying dues, while only 17% were more inclined to support the member.[11] In December 1995, the Wirthlin Group asked a similar question that did not mention the possibility of the US losing its General Assembly vote: 43% of respondents said their votes for Congress would be affected, 30% said they would be less inclined to support such a member, and only 13% said they would be more inclined to do so.[12]



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