Americans (used to) love world government

Sociologist David Weakliem writes:

It appears that an overwhelming majority of Americans who have an opinion on the subject think that Britain should remain in the European Union. But how many would support the United States joining an organization like the EU? My guess is very few. But back in 1946, the Gallup Poll asked “Do you think the United Nations organization should be strengthened to make it a world government with power to control the armed forces of all nations, including the United States?” 54% said yes, and only 24% no, with the rest undecided. The question was asked again in 1946 and 1947, with similar results. In 1951, the margin was smaller, at 49-36%. In 1953 and 1955, there were narrow margins against the idea. That was the last time the question, or anything like it, was asked. Of course, opposition probably would have increased if anyone had seriously tried to implement a plan like this, but for a while many Americans were willing to at least contemplate the idea.

Wow. 54%. Really? I did a Google search and indeed that’s what the poll said. Here’s George Gallup writing in the Pittsburgh Press on Christmas Eve, 1947:

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Even more striking was the 49% support as late as 1951, at which point I assume any illusions about our Soviet allies had dissipated.

Weakliem does have a good point, though, when he writes that “opposition probably would have increased if anyone had seriously tried to implement a plan like this.” Supporting world government is one thing; supporting any particular version of it is another.

Anyway, this poll finding seems worth sharing amid all the Brexit discussion, also a good item for July 4th.

15 thoughts on “Americans (used to) love world government

    • Rahul:

      It’s interesting how discussion has changed over the years. In the immediate postwar era, the rationale for world government was to end war, not to increase free trade or whatever.

  1. It makes sense: Back in 1950 there was hardly any adult in the US, Europe etc. who hadn’t personally experienced the suffering of war. Some had seen multiple wars.

    Luckily, no more.

  2. I’m 69, and grew up in a liberal family in DC. I was, and remain, a sci-fi fan, and used to go to horror/sci-fi movies every weekend. (As an adult I now suspect that my parents liked it b/c it got me and my brother out of the house for a few hours.)

    In any event, I was a fan of the UN, and so were the movies. Often the first move an alien or monster would make would be to attack the UN building, and often the heroes battling them reported to the UN. I suspect I and others thought the UN would be like the US government ruling over Spain, Chile, and Thailand the way the US ruled over Idaho, Connecticut, and Florida.

    Remember that the Korean War (relevant to your comment about 1951) was technically a war between Korea/China and the UN, not the US, making it easy to support American’s idea that the UN could be the world equivalent of the Federal government.

    Tom, Richmond, VA

    • The 1940 GOP nominee Wendell Wilkie had a huge bestseller in 1943 entitled “One World” about the need for world government:

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/One_World_(book)

      Sci-fi fan Ronald Reagan told the UN in 1987:

      “Perhaps we need some outside universal threat to make us recognize this common bond. I occasionally think how quickly our differences worldwide would vanish if we were facing an alien threat from outside this world.”

  3. It always seems to me that the USA is what the EU is aiming to become. A set of states that come together with some local government (European countries / US states) a national government (EU parliament/federal government) and a president sort of on top of this…

    • The analogy is only partially correct; it does makes sense if you think in current terms. But thinking historically, the USA originated as a bunch of colonies joining together primarily to establish independence from their common colonial power. In particular, they were not independent states, since they were all under the rule of the colonizing state, Britain. That’s very different from the states that joined to form the European Union.

  4. || “Dewey Beats Truman” (1948 Gallup Poll conclusion) ||

    George Gallup had a poor track record for poll accuracy in that post-war period.
    What was the specific methodology for this 1946 “world government” poll ??
    Why should we trust that poll at all ?

    Based on his 1948 presidential election polling, Gallup predicted a victory for Dewey, the Republican candidate. Gallup’s “predicted” breakdown of the vote was 50% for Dewey, 44% for Truman, and 6% for third-party candidates Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace. The actual results of the election turned out to be almost exactly reversed: 50% for Truman, 45% for Dewey, and 5% for third-party candidates.

    And accurately assessing national opinion on world government is much more difficult than evaluating an election.

    • Webley, Slugger,

      Let’s set 2012 aside, as the Gallup poll of 2012 has essentially zero overlap with the Gallup of 1950. Regarding Dewey-Truman: sure, that poll was off by 5 percentage points, which I assume was some combination of sampling error, nonsampling error, and public opinion swing. Fine. But the polls above reported margins of 56%-30%, 49%-36%. Those margins aren’t even close, and I see no reason to doubt that a large plurality of Americans at the time supported a world government that controlled national armed forces, at least in the abstract.

  5. Based on reporting of USA electoral news we have the impression that citizens of the USA cannot even agree on Mexico being part of that country… :) What would a poll find today, I wonder? Lots of interesting questions floating around.

  6. Depends on the exact question. Who wouldn’t want to be part of the EU (except for a vocal group of British righties, as the recent Brexit disaster shows)? Now, the UN– that’s another story. The Arab states are in the UN. China. Even better question: if we want to downsize the US to remove underperforming states, which would be the first to go? Texas or Kansas might be solid choices.

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