Public Support for Peacebuilding

The Alliance for Peacebuilding and Conciliation Resources recently conducted public opinion polls in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Germany.*

The results surprised us all.

Despite what the media and the pundits keep telling us, we actually are pretty much in agreement when it comes to  war and peace.  The survey demonstrated widespread support for peacebuilding efforts across all three countries.

I will limit myself primarily to the American findings here, but you can read the full report which shows that people in all three countries support peace at more or less the level and for more or less the same reasons.

As an American who is concerned about the state of democracy in this country, I was surprised about how similar the attitudes of self-proclaimed Republicans and Democrats were given the current polarization around so many political issues. As this first table suggests, the overwhelming majority of respondents agreed that “peacebuilding plays a vital role in ending violent conflict.”

Percentage agreeing that “peacebuilding plays a vital role in ending violent conflict.”

We were also surprised by how well the people we surveyed understood what peacebuilding is all about at a time when our policy on national security is in flux and recent governments have increasingly relied on military approaches to complex global issues.

We asked them to pick among statements that best typified what peacebuilding meant to them, which are summarized in this second table. The three items in the table that topped their lists will also be the same ones I feature in the textbook on conflict resolution and peacebuilding that I am in the process of writing.

Public Understanding of Peacebuilding

Similarly, the four most common reasons respondents chose for supporting peacebuilding included:

  • human beings have the right to live in peace; free from conflict (84%)
  • conflict creates so much suffering in the world, but when peace is (80%) achieved people’s lives can flourish
  • because we are all citizens of the world (77%)
  • because we should help those less fortunate than us if we have the ability to do so (77%)

Perhaps most intriguing of all, these findings extend to the most difficult issue of all for Americans and almost everyone else–how to deal with terrorists. On this front, we asked respondents whether their national government and international organizations like the United Nations should “talk with, mediate between, and negotiate with” terrorists. Despite the often heated statements from both sides of the political aisle, Americans (like the British and German voters we surveyed) overwhelmingly favored open relations with terrorists as you can see in this final table.

How Should We Deal with Terrorists?

As fragmentary as these data are, they are points us at the Alliance for Peacebuilding in three new directions as we explore how to work in the United States.

First, Americans are not as divided on peacebuilding issues as they are on other questions that are in the news today, like healthcare and gun control. It is heartening to know that our advocacy work can focus on issues in which common ground can be built.

Second, these data suggest that we could and should forge broader coalitions that span what often feel like unbridgeable ideological divides. In the national security arena, organizations like the American Enterprise Institute and the CATO Institute have recently published reports on terrorism and violent extremism whose analyses overlap considerably with those issued by Alliance for Peacebuilding members. In short, these data suggest that there would be broader, public support for cooperative efforts by the kinds of organizations listed in this paragraph – and more.

Finally, even given these data, we cannot argue that the American public is highly informed or deeply engaged in policy making discussions about That said, these data suggest that there is a potentially large and fertile audience for peacebuilding if we develop “outward facing” strategies that could deepen the public’s understanding of peacebuilding and to engage average citizens in peacebuilding activities at home as well as abroad.

*Truth in advertising. I both funded and helped lead the analysis of the American version of the survey.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Alliance for Peacebuilding or its members. 

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