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US & ICC > Public Opinion & Polls

American Public Support for the ICC

A pro-ICC rally in New York. Hannah Dunphy/AMICC.

National public opinion polls demonstrate that well over half of the American public supports US participation in the ICC - when it knows about it. This non-partisan response comes from an emotional and moral abhorrence to the crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court, and a belief that anyone who commits an atrocity should be held accountable under law for his or her actions. In this way the Court provides a forum through which people with widely differing perspectives can stand together against horrendous crimes.

While instinctive support for the Court is broad-based, it is also shallow and untapped. Many national organizations, including AMICC members, are determined to translate opinion into the kind of intense and focussed public opinion that can drive action by the government. They have made institutional commitments to the ICC that they are using to educate their members about the Court and to encourage their active support at the local level.

Most Recent Polls: 70% Pro-ICC

According to a September 2012 poll by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, 70% of Americans believe that the United States should participate in the Rome Statute treaty agreement on the International Criminal Court to try individuals for war crimes, genocide, or crimes against humanity if their own country won't try them. This result was consistent with the September 2010 poll which showed an increase from the September 2008 poll indicating that 68% of Americans were in favor of US participation in the ICC; this was the only increase among the treaties surveyed. The 2010 poll also indicated that half of respondents favored strengthening the ICC as an institution.

A May 2006 Americans on International Courts and Their Jurisdiction Over the US poll by and Knowledge Networks indicated that 74% of Americans support US participation in the ICC as it begins its first trial proceedings. A poll conducted in June and July 2006 by Knowledge Networks, published by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs in its 2006 Public Opinion Study on the United States and the Rise of China and India, similarly found that 71% of Americans support US participation in the Court.

A July 2012 poll more closely targeted on ending genocide and including only a single question on the ICC, conducted by Penn Schoen Berland, asked 1,000 Americans, "Based on what you know about the ICC, do you think that having a court like the ICC is effective at preventing genocide?" Forty-six percent of young people and 41% of Democrats said yes, although only 34% overall said so. Full poll results.

US Cooperation with the ICC

A May 2005 poll by the International Crisis Group and Zogby International found that 91% of Americans feel that the US should cooperate with the ICC to help bring to justice those responsible for the atrocities in Darfur. The results clearly indicate a strong national consensus that those committing the Darfur atrocities must be brought to justice at the ICC, and the US should help to ensure that occurs. In addition, the poll indicates that 80% of Americans agree that the continued attacks on civilian populations in Darfur by militias supported by the government of Sudan can be described as "genocide" or "crimes against humanity," and 84% of respondents stated that the US should not tolerate an extremist government engaged in wholesale attacks on its own civilians.

A February 2005 poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations and the Program on International Policy Attitudes (PIPA) at the University of Maryland showed that a majority of Americans (60%) favored referring Darfur atrocities to the ICC rather than using a temporary tribunal (29%), as proposed by the Bush administration. Support for referral to the ICC was higher among Democrats (68%), but a majority of Republicans (56%) also favored it. Even when respondents in a sample were provided Bush administration arguments against the US participation in the ICC, they were not significantly less likely to favor referral of the Darfur cases to the ICC.

Consistent American Support Since 1999

As early as October 2004, a Chicago Council on Foreign Relations poll showed that 76% majority of the public favored US participation in the ICC, with a 54% majority believing that most of the Congress favored the Court as well. Even more striking was the fact that 68% of administration officials also thought the US should participate. However, Congressional staffers differed, with only 43% supporting US participation. Preferences varied by party, with 74% of Democratic staffers favoring participation, while 15% of Republican staffers supporting US participation.

The poll further found that among administration officials, only 32% estimated that a majority of the public favored the ICC and only 17% estimated that this is a large majority. Fifteen percent of Congressional staffers estimated majority public support, with 18% of Democratic staffers correctly estimating the direction of general public opinion and only 9% of Republican staffers correctly identifying.

Another poll by the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations in September 2004 shows strong American support for the ICC: 76% of the public and 70% of leaders favor American participation in the Court, to try individuals for war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity if their own countries will not try them. Additionally, 82% of the public and 80% of leaders support putting international terrorists on trial at the ICC.

This poll shows greater support for the Court than the Council's previous October 2002 poll (co-sponsored with the German Marshall Fund of the US) which found that 65% of the American public would support US participation in the ICC even after the fact that some people fear political prosecution of US soldiers is mentioned. Significantly, the poll also shows that "[t]he trial of suspected terrorists in an International Criminal Court is supported by an overwhelming 83%." In September 2004 a poll by Zogby International, commissioned by the Foreign Policy Association (FPA), surveyed American attitudes towards a range of issues concerning the role of the US in the world. The poll found that just over half (51%) agree that the US should "ratify the creation of the International Criminal Court," up from 48% last year.

The 1999 Roper poll and 2000 Yankelovich poll are especially useful because, although from different organizations, they used very similar paragraphs informing respondents about the Court and the reasons for opposing and supporting it before the questions were asked.

Take Action: Support Local Polling

One problem is that members of Congress and Senators say: "Maybe people respond this way in national polls, but not in my district/state." Thus local polls are essential for local action. Paid polls are expensive, but other options are a company or organization that is willing to insert an ICC question in a poll it is already doing and college or university social science or political science departments that do polls as student exercises. Alliances should consider including the 1999 Roper and 2000 Yankelovich questions in their polls to provide continuity and compatibility, along with additional, perhaps locally oriented, questions.