Public Opinion and Human Rights

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Photo: David Crow (All rights reserved)

What can (and can’t) we learn from surveys?

Human rights groups have long argued that their job is to uphold norms, laws, and principles, even if this isolates them from the political mainstream. In recent years, however, a growing number of scholars and handful of activists have begun using opinion polls to better understand the public’s attitude towards human rights issues. In some cases, groups have used these analyses to adjust their messages, craft new outreach efforts, or build new fund raising strategies. In this debate authors explore the following questions: What research has been done in this area, and how useful is it? Should human rights groups use polling results to adjust their messages and strategy? If so, when and how? What additional research should scholars be doing and how can they work with activists? Should foundations and other donors support this work? If yes, how?

Several of the authors in this series are featured in the Journal of Human Rights' Special Issue on Public Opinion Polling & Human Rights (Volume 16, Issue 3), edited by James Ron. Access their articles here for free from August through October 2017. 

The legitimization of violence to solve social problems in Brazil

August 24, 2017
BY: Samira Bueno, Renato Sérgio de Lima
EspañolPortuguês

Many Brazilians indicate that they would accept authoritarianism and government ...

Why an anti-ICC narrative may help Kenyan leaders win votes

August 22, 2017
BY: Geoff Dancy

Anti-ICC narratives resonate with a crucial minority of Kenyan citizens, ...

Tailoring the message: How the political left and right think differently about human rights

August 10, 2017
BY: Joe Braun, Stephen Arves

Effectively motivating people to care about human rights depends largely ...

Monetizing the human rights “brand”

May 4, 2017
BY: David Crow, José Kaire, James Ron
Español

Marketing research can help Mexican rights groups monetize their “brand” ...

Ordinary people will pay for rights. We asked them

February 15, 2017
BY: James Ron, José Kaire, David Crow
Español

New research suggests that if human rights organizations use evidence-based ...

How we talk about mass violence: the cultural effects of Darfur campaigns

November 8, 2016
BY: Joachim J. Savelsberg 

When NGOs alter their narratives of mass violence depending on the cultural ...

Is public opinion an effective constraint on torture?

November 2, 2016
BY: Will H. Moore
Españolالعربية

Americans’ support for torture increases depending on who is involved ...

Human rights and public opinion in Israel: anger vs. pragmatism

October 26, 2016
BY: Dahlia Scheindlin
Españolעבריתالعربية

In Israel, public support for the term, “human rights,” is falling; support ...

Dogs, pigs, and human rights: South Korea’s uproar

September 27, 2016
BY: Jeong-Woo Koo 

A recent political uproar in South Korea has exacerbated the public’s ...

Earning the trust of human rights supporters

September 6, 2016
BY: James Ron
Español

Human rights groups have lost—or never gained—the trust of roughly half ...

The political strategy for peace

July 19, 2016
BY: Diana Isabel Güiza Gómez 
Español

After 50 years, the Colombian government has signed a historic ceasefire ...

The promises and pitfalls of mobile polling

July 12, 2016
BY: Michael Bear Kleinman 
Español

Mobile polling could revolutionize how civil society and human rights ...

In southeastern Europe, data helps bolster LGBTI rights

July 11, 2016
BY: Marko Ivkovic 
EspañolСрпски

Using polling data, the National Democratic Institute is helping LGBTI ...

Naming crimes: genocide and public opinion in the United States

June 30, 2016
BY: Benjamin A. Valentino, Ethan Weinberg 

Debates about the label “genocide” distract from the substantive discussion ...

Local funding is not always the answer

June 27, 2016
BY: Hussein Baoumi
Françaisالعربية

In some countries, relying on local funding gives human rights defenders ...

Discrimination, cooperation, and building communities

June 7, 2016
BY: Ana Bracic
Español

New research shows that people who experience discrimination are less ...

It’s about politics: why public opinion matters for movement organizing

June 1, 2016
BY: Lauren Kitz
Español

For countries in democratic transition, using public opinion research ...

Activists get creative in their push for Moroccan women’s rights

May 24, 2016
BY: Rachel Schmidt

Partnering with a comedienne and taking to social media, Human Rights ...

Grounds for (a little) optimism? Russian public opinion on human rights

January 18, 2016
BY: Theodore P. Gerber 
EspañolРусский

Despite Putin’s clampdown on Russian civil society, public opinion trends ...

Adapt or perish: the new normal for civil society

January 4, 2016
BY: Shannon N. Green
Español

As space for civil society closes, donors and civil society leaders are ...

Ignore public opinion at your own peril

November 17, 2015
BY: Colin Irwin 

Why have global leaders continually been ignoring the views of Muslims—and ...

To discredit victims, call them terrorists

November 11, 2015
BY: Ana Bracic, Amanda Murdie
Español

Repressive governments can damage the effectiveness of human rights action ...

What do South Africans really think about sexual orientation and gender identity?

November 9, 2015
BY: Carla Sutherland 

South Africa stands apart from the criminalization of homosexuality in ...

Strategic, data-driven human rights advocacy: the Israeli experience

November 4, 2015
BY: Dahlia Scheindlin

Winning the public’s trust requires that NGOs be open to understanding, ...

Myth-busting human rights awareness

October 13, 2015
BY: Joel R. Pruce
Español

Broad public support for human rights is a false front—not a mass movement ...

Wanted in Israel: democratic leadership

October 7, 2015
BY: Tamar Hermann 
العربيةעברית

Israeli public opinion is not nearly as anti-democratic as is often depicted. ...

Morocco’s “soft” repression of human rights activists

September 29, 2015
BY: Zine El Abidine Meknassi 
Françaisالعربية

Moroccan authorities still use old methods of oppressing opponents. Without ...

In Israel, public opinion matters more when it’s against you

September 23, 2015
BY: Dahlia Scheindlin
Españolالعربيةעברית

Backed into a corner, Israeli human rights groups are trying to better ...

Know thy audience: effective messaging in human rights campaigns

September 21, 2015
BY: Laurence Janta-Lipinski
Español

Knowing your audience, and tailoring messages accordingly, will make or ...

For human rights, majority opinion isn’t always important

September 19, 2015
BY: Kenneth Roth
EspañolFrançaisالعربية

If polls don’t target relevant publics, they misinform activism.

“Small places, close to home”: successful communication on human rights

September 15, 2015
BY: Neil Crowther
EspañolFrançais

Effective counter-framing is crucial to improve public opinion on human ...

Perceptions on human rights can help—or hinder—state building

September 14, 2015
BY: Khalil Shikaki 
Françaisالعربية

Public perception on human rights in the Middle East can provide important ...

Making peace through polls

September 9, 2015
BY: Colin Irwin 

Public opinion polls can help bring forward the voice of the silent majority, ...

It’s all in the frame: winning marriage equality in America

September 8, 2015
BY: Kevin Nix 
EspañolFrançais

Was there a magic messaging bullet that helped change American public ...

In Israel, intense combat spurs peace activism

September 7, 2015
BY: Erica Weiss 
עבריתالعربية

Experience of intense combat not only turns Israeli soldiers against conflict ...

When it comes to drones, do Americans really care about international law?

September 1, 2015
BY: Tanisha M. Fazal
EspañolFrançais

Is American public opinion on drones influenced by international law, ...

Why framing matters—and polls only give you so much

August 17, 2015
BY: Nat Kendall-Taylor 
Español

Understanding how people think about human rights, not just what they ...

In Myanmar, polls are the beginning of a larger conversation

August 10, 2015
BY: Kathy Frankovic 
မြန်မာဘာသာ

Many activists in Myanmar (Burma) are very skeptical of public opinion ...

Paying for human rights violations: perceptions of the Colombian peace process

August 3, 2015
BY: Ryan E. Carlin, Jennifer L. Mccoy, Jelena Subotic
Español

New research shows that providing context for human rights issues yields ...

For Moroccan rights groups, good reputations aren’t enough

July 28, 2015
BY: Rachid Touhtou , James Ron, Shannon Golden
Françaisالعربية

Without building a strong popular base, the Moroccan human rights community ...

Public opinion on human rights is the true gauge of progress

July 3, 2015
BY: Jeong-Woo Koo 
Español한국어

External, “objective” measures of South Korea’s human rights progress ...

Research-based messaging changes public support for human rights

July 3, 2015
BY: Rachel Krys
EspañolFrançais

Amidst widespread negative views on human rights in the UK, public opinion ...

International law and US public support for drone strikes

July 2, 2015
BY: Sarah Kreps, Geoffrey Wallace
EspañolFrançais

When it comes to public opinion on drone strikes, the UN and NGOs may ...

More than smoke and mirrors: citizen perceptions of human rights

July 1, 2015
BY: Dona-Gene Barton, Courtney Hillebrecht, Sergio Wals
Español

Study finds that Mexicans’ perceptions of human rights protections are ...

Mapping human rights skepticism in Mexico

July 1, 2015
BY: David Crow
Español

Most Mexicans don’t associate human rights with protecting criminals, ...

Let the pollsters pick? Navigating public opinion in Israel

June 30, 2015
BY: Jessica Montell
Españolالعربيةעברית

Polls help identify wedge issues, but what happens if human rights activists ...

In Israel, implementing human rights feels wrong

June 30, 2015
BY: Dahlia Scheindlin
Españolעבריתالعربية

Polls indicate that Jewish Israelis generally support the concept of human ...

Does it matter when polls go wrong?

June 29, 2015
BY: Kathy Frankovic 

When political polls go wrong, many people start to doubt polling entirely. ...