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Public opinion and human rights – 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?

Ordinary people will pay for rights. We asked them

New research suggests that if human rights organizations use evidence-based fundraising strategies, the public will donate. Español


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

When NGOs alter their narratives of mass violence depending on the cultural characteristics of each country, which version dominates?


Is public opinion an effective constraint on torture?

Americans’ support for torture increases depending on who is involved and how it is framed. Españolالعربية


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

In Israel, public support for the term, “human rights,” is falling; support for actual human rights policies, however, is strong. Españolالعربيةעברית


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

A recent political uproar in South Korea has exacerbated the public’s diminishing trust in government officials.


Earning the trust of human rights supporters

Human rights groups have lost—or never gained—the trust of roughly half their (potentially) strongest supporters. Español


The political strategy for peace

After 50 years, the Colombian government has signed a historic ceasefire agreement. But how can we get more Colombians on board? Español


A crisis that shouldn’t be

Polling in over two dozen countries shows much greater public support for refugees than commonly reported. EspañolFrançais


The promises and pitfalls of mobile polling

Mobile polling could revolutionize how civil society and human rights groups operate—if it’s done right. Español


In southeastern Europe, data helps bolster LGBTI rights

Using polling data, the National Democratic Institute is helping LGBTI groups in southeastern Europe build their activist base. EspañolСрпски


Naming crimes: genocide and public opinion in the United States

Debates about the label “genocide” distract from the substantive discussion about whether and how to stop the killing.


To advance more humane refugee policies, we must reframe the debate

Polls measure public opinion on refugees, but studying deeper thinking and issue framing are the keys to understanding people’s willingness to act. Español


Discrimination, cooperation, and building communities

New research shows that people who experience discrimination are less likely to contribute to the common good. Español 


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

For countries in democratic transition, using public opinion research to inform the strategy of social movements has added value. Español 


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

Partnering with a comedienne and taking to social media, Human Rights Watch is getting creative to gain traction on women’s rights in Morocco.


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

Despite Putin’s clampdown on Russian civil society, public opinion trends point to growing support for civil liberties. EspañolРу́сский


Why some human rights groups avoid public opinion research—and why they’re wrong

There are many reasons to avoid public opinion research, but there are even more reasons to invest in it. EspañolFrançais


Adapt or perish: the new normal for civil society

As space for civil society closes, donors and civil society leaders are realizing they cannot take public support for granted. Español


Ignore public opinion at your own peril

Why have global leaders continually been ignoring the views of Muslims—and especially of Syrians—on conflict


To discredit victims, call them terrorists

Repressive governments can damage the effectiveness of human rights action by attempting to discredit a prisoner of conscience.


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

South Africa stands apart from the criminalization of homosexuality in Africa, but without surveys, we still don’t know the public’s opinion.


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

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


Myth-busting human rights awareness

Broad public support for human rights is a false front—not a mass movement but a loosely bound herd.  Español


Wanted in Israel: democratic leadership

Israeli public opinion is not nearly as anti-democratic as is often depicted. Israeli leadership, however, is another story. עברית ,العربية


Morocco’s “soft” repression of human rights activists

Moroccan authorities still use old methods of oppressing opponents. Without popular support, can human rights groups fight back?  Françaisالعربية


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

Backed into a corner, Israeli human rights groups are trying to better understand and utilize public opinion. Españolעברית ,العربية


Know thy audience: effective messaging in human rights campaigns

Knowing your audience, and tailoring messages accordingly, will make or break a human rights campaign. Español


For human rights, majority opinion isn’t always important

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


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

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


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

Public perception on human rights in the Middle East can provide important insights on state building. Françaisالعربية


Making peace through polls

Public opinion polls can help bring forward the voice of the silent majority, who mostly favour peace in situations of violent conflict.


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

Was there a magic messaging bullet that helped change American public opinion on same-sex marriage?  EspañolFrançais


In Israel, intense combat spurs peace activism

Experience of intense combat not only turns Israeli soldiers against conflict resolution, it can also spur them to become anti-occupation activists. العربية ,עברית


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

Is American public opinion on drones influenced by international law, or is it the low-to-no American casualties that have more sway? Español, Français


Why framing matters—and polls only give you so much

Understanding how people think about human rights, not just what they think, is critical to effective communication. Español


In Myanmar, polls are the beginning of a larger conversation

Many activists in Myanmar (Burma) are very skeptical of public opinion polling. But these polls are a key starting point for a larger conversation on democracy. မြန်မာဘာသာ


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

New research shows that providing context for human rights issues yields a broader range of responses to peace talks in Colombia. Español


For Moroccan rights groups, good reputations aren’t enough

Without building a strong popular base, the Moroccan human rights community cannot capitalize on its good reputation. Françaisالعربية


In Israel, intense combat experience decreases support for negotiations and human rights organizations

The formative years that many Israelis spend in combat service can have a negative impact on attitudes towards conflict resolution and human rights.  EspañolFrançaisالعربية ,עברית


Partners in prayer: women's rights and religion in Morocco

Pundits say that religion and human rights are opposing forces in Morocco, especially around women’s rights. Our Human Rights Perception Polls suggest a more nuanced picture. Françaisالعربية


Public opinion on human rights is the true gauge of progress

External, “objective” measures of South Korea’s human rights progress will only take us so far. What we need now are the opinions of the people. Español, 한국어 


Research-based messaging changes public support for human rights

Amidst widespread negative views on human rights in the UK, public opinion research can help improve outreach strategies.  EspañolFrançais


Use of force: the American public and the ethics of war

Survey data suggest that most Americans weigh the ethics of war with a heavy bias towards protecting American lives and national security.  Español, Françaisالعربية


International law and US public support for drone strikes

When it comes to public opinion on drone strikes, the UN and NGOs may have more influence than we think. EspañolFrançaisالعربية


Mapping human rights skepticism in Mexico

Most Mexicans don’t associate human rights with protecting criminals, but surveys show this varies depending on region and political affiliation. Español


More than smoke and mirrors: citizen perceptions of human rights

Study finds that Mexicans’ perceptions of human rights protections are linked to individuals’ evaluations of their leaders, their government and democratization. Español


Let the pollsters pick? Navigating public opinion in Israel

Polls help identify wedge issues, but what happens if human rights activists only pick fights they can win?  Españolالعربية ,עברית


In Israel, implementing human rights feels wrong

Polls indicate that Jewish Israelis generally support the concept of human rights, but are less supportive of Israeli human rights organizations – especially those defending Palestinians.  Españolالعربية ,עברית


Doubling down on human rights data

NGOs have often resisted social science methods, but random sampling and public opinion survey data can help us understand what people actually think and want. EspañolFrançaisРу́сский


Data-driven optimism for global rights activists

Opinion polls across four world regions suggest that human rights activists can be cautiously optimistic—the public likes and trusts them. EspañolFrançais, العربية


Does it matter when polls go wrong?

When political polls go wrong, many people start to doubt polling entirely. But that’s a costly mistake.


Is the emerging middle class our best hope for global rights activism?

A global poll into perceptions of human rights confirms there is hope for international human rights organizations to build alliances within Southern civil societies to demand protection of human rights. More efforts should be put into involving local groups in global advocacy. EspañolFrançaisالعربية


All articles in date order:

La gente común sí está dispuesta a pagar por los derechos. Le preguntamos

Un nuevo estudio indica que si las organizaciones de derechos humanos utilizan estrategias de recaudación de fondos con base empírica, el público sí donará dinero. Una contribución a los debates de openGlobalRights sobre el financiamiento y la opinión pública y los derechos humanos. English

Ordinary people will pay for rights. We asked them

New research suggests that if human rights organizations use evidence-based fundraising strategies, the public will donate. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debates on funding and public opinion and human rights. Español

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

When NGOs alter their narratives of mass violence depending on the cultural characteristics of each country, which version dominates? A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights.

¿La opinión pública ejerce una restricción efectiva sobre la tortura?

El apoyo de los estadounidenses para la tortura aumenta dependiendo de quién está involucrado y del encuadre que se usa. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la opinión pública y los derechos humanosEnglishالعربية

هل الرأي العام يشكّل عقبة فعّالة أمام التعذيب

يتزايد تأييد الأمريكيين للتعذيب حسب الأطراف المعنية (مثل المحتجزين) والإطار الذي يتم وضع هذا الفعل فيه لتشكيل الرأي والتأثير عليه. مشاركة في النقاش على موقع openGlobalRights حول الرأي العام وحقوق الإنسان. English, Español

Is public opinion an effective constraint on torture?

Americans’ support for torture increases depending on who is involved and how it is framed. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights. Españolالعربية

זכויות האדם ודעת הקהל בישראל: כעס מול פרגמטיות

בישראל, חלה ירידה בתמיכה הציבורית במונח "זכויות האדם", אולם התמיכה במדיניות השומרת על זכויות האדם איתנה. תרומה לדיון בנושא דעת הקהל וזכויות האדם המתקיים ב-openGlobalRights

Español ,العربية ,English

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

In Israel, public support for the term, “human rights,” is falling; support for actual human rights policies, however, is strong. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights. Españolالعربيةעברית

Los derechos humanos y la opinión pública en Israel: la ira frente al pragmatismo

En Israel, el apoyo público a favor del término “derechos humanos” está disminuyendo; el apoyo a las políticas reales de derechos humanos, sin embargo, es fuerte. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la opinión pública y los derechos humanosEnglishالعربيةעברית

حقوق الإنسان والرأي العام في إسرائيل: الغضب مقابل النزعة الواقعية والعملية

في إسرائيل، التأييد العام لمصطلح "حقوق الإنسان" في تدهور وانخفاض، غير أن تأييد سياسات حقوق الإنسان الفعلية في تصاعد وتزايد. مساهمة في النقاش على موقع openGlobalRights بخصوص الرأي العام وحقوق الإنسان. EnglishEspañolעברית

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

A recent political uproar in South Korea has exacerbated the public’s diminishing trust in government officials. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights.

Granjearse la confianza de los partidarios de los derechos humanos

Las agrupaciones de derechos humanos han perdido —o nunca obtuvieron— la confianza de aproximadamente la mitad de sus más firmes partidarios (potenciales). Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la opinión pública y los derechos humanos y la evaluación y los derechos humanos. English

Earning the trust of human rights supporters

Human rights groups have lost—or never gained—the trust of roughly half their (potentially) strongest supporters. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights, and evaluation and human rightsEspañol

The political strategy for peace

After 50 years, the Colombian government has signed a historic ceasefire agreement. But how can we get more Colombians on board? A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rightsEspañol

La estrategia política para la paz

Después de 50 años, el gobierno colombiano ha firmado un histórico acuerdo de cese al fuego. Pero, ¿cómo lograr que más colombianos se sumen al proceso de paz? Una contribución al debate sobre opinión pública y derechos humanos de OpenGlobalRights. English

Une crise qui n’a pas lieu d’être

Le sondage réalisé dans plus d’une vingtaine de pays montre un soutien public en faveur des réfugiés bien supérieur à ce qui est généralement reporté. Une contribution au débat d’openGlobalRights sur le futur de la protection des réfugiés. EnglishEspañol 

A crisis that shouldn’t be

Polling in over two dozen countries shows much greater public support for refugees than commonly reported. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the future of refugee protection.  EspañolFrançais

Una crisis que no debería existir

Las encuestas realizadas en más de dos docenas de países muestran mucho mayor apoyo público para los refugiados del que se suele informar. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre el futuro de la protección de los refugiados. EnglishFrançais

Las promesas y los peligros del sondeo mediante teléfonos celulares

El sondeo mediante teléfonos celulares podría revolucionar cómo operan los grupos de derechos humanos y la sociedad civil; si se hace bien. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la opinión pública y los derechos humanos. English

The promises and pitfalls of mobile polling

Mobile polling could revolutionize how civil society and human rights groups operate—if it’s done right. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights. Español

In southeastern Europe, data helps bolster LGBTI rights

Using polling data, the National Democratic Institute is helping LGBTI groups in southeastern Europe build their activist base. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights. EspañolСрпски

En el sureste de Europa, los datos ayudan a reforzar los derechos LGBTI

Utilizando datos de encuestas, el National Democratic Institute ayuda a las agrupaciones LGBTI del sureste de Europa a desarrollar una base de activistas. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la opinión pública y los derechos humanos. English, Српски

У југоистоичној Eвропи подаци помажу оснаживању ЛГБТИ популације

Користећи податке добијене истраживањем, Национални демократски институт помаже организацијама које представљају ЛГБТИ људе у југоисточној Европи да изграде  своју мрежу активиста. Чланак је допринос дебатама на  оpenGlobalRights (отвореним Глобалним Правима) у вези јавног мњења и људских права. English, Español

Naming crimes: genocide and public opinion in the United States

Debates about the label “genocide” distract from the substantive discussion about whether and how to stop the killing. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights.

Para promover políticas más humanas sobre los refugiados, tenemos que replantear el debate

Las encuestas miden la opinión pública sobre los refugiados, pero analizar las reflexiones más profundas y el encuadre de los temas son las claves para entender la disposición a actuar. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre el futuro de la protección de los refugiados. English

To advance more humane refugee policies, we must reframe the debate

Polls measure public opinion on refugees, but studying deeper thinking and issue framing are the keys to understanding people’s willingness to act. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on the future of refugee protection. Español

Local funding is not always the answer

In some countries, relying on local funding gives human rights defenders even less freedom. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debates on funding for human rights and closing space for civil society.  Françaisالعربية

التمويل المحلي ليس دائما هو الحل

في بعض الدول الإعتماد على التمويل المحلي قد يقلل من حرية المدافعين عن حقوق الإنسان. مساهمة في النقاش المطروح على موقع OpenGlobalRights حول "التمويل لمساندة حقوق الإنسان" و "غلق المجال العام على المجتمع المدني."  English, Français

Le financement local n’est pas toujours la solution

Dans certains pays, s’appuyer sur les financements locaux donne encore moins de liberté aux défenseurs des droits humains. Une contribution au débat d’openGlobalRights sur le financement des droits humains et la fermeture de l'espace pour la société civileEnglishالعربية

Discriminación, cooperación y construcción de comunidades

Una nueva investigación muestra que las personas que experimentan discriminación tienen menos probabilidades de contribuir al bien común. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la opinión pública y los derechos humanos. English

Discrimination, cooperation, and building communities

New research shows that people who experience discrimination are less likely to contribute to the common good. A contribution to the openGlobalRights’ public opinion and human rights debate. Español 

Es cuestión de política: por qué la opinión pública es importante para la organización de los movimientos

Para los países en transición democrática, utilizar la investigación de la opinión pública para informar la estrategia de los movimientos sociales tiene un valor añadido. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la opinión pública y los derechos humanos. English

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

For countries in democratic transition, using public opinion research to inform the strategy of social movements has added value. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights. Español 

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

Partnering with a comedienne and taking to social media, Human Rights Watch is getting creative to gain traction on women’s rights in Morocco. A contribution to the openGlobalRights debate on public opinion and human rights.

¿Hay motivos para ser (un poco) optimistas? La opinión pública sobre los derechos humanos en Rusia

A pesar de la represión de Putin a la sociedad civil rusa, las tendencias de opinión pública apuntan a un apoyo cada vez mayor para las libertades civiles. Una contribución al debate de openGlobalRights sobre la opinión pública y los derechos humanos. EnglishРу́сский

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