UN Staff, Experts, and the Public Agree: One of These 3 Should Be SG

As part of the historic new open process for the SG appointment, Avaaz went looking for the best candidate in the field -- polling almost 1000 UN staff, consulting with dozens of top experts, and gathering global public opinion in a 30-minute poll with over 700 respondents.

The overwhelming result was a focus on just 3 candidates among the field: Helen Clark, Christiana Figueres, and Antonio Guterres.

When asked to name their top 3 candidates, UN staff -- identified by an email address belonging to a UN programme or organisation -- were clear. Clark received 439 mentions, Guterres 381, and Figueres 340. Irina Bokova with 269 and Susanna Malcorra with 201 votes were far behind these top 3. Among the other candidates, only Danilo Turk, with 130 votes, reached triple digits.

The responses were similar when asked who would make an "acceptable" or "exciting" choice for SG, with Figueres moving into second place for levels of excitement about her candidacy.

In two rounds of global public polling which asked people from over 50 countries to read biographies and watch videos of candidates, Figueres was the top choice, receiving 34% support. Clark was close behind with 31%. Guterres performed worse in this polling, apparently due to a preference among those polled for a woman candidate.

Dozens of top experts consulted by the Avaaz team agreed with the strongest three candidates as selected by UN staff, though in general spoke most highly of Guterres, and saw Clark's candidacy as the weakest of the three. While the interviews were confidential, some experts are on record in these assessments. In a recent Op-Ed Richard Gowan wrote that Guterres' current lead is "a relief for those who hanker after a bold secretary-general."

What qualities are these groups looking for that have them landing on Clark, Figueres, and Guterres? Taking a hint from the recent open letter from UN staff, it could be a consensus-building, determined, impartial leader who will be as adept at communicating with the public as with Member States. Someone more willing to hold all countries, regardless of size or status, accountable to their commitments, and able to set an inspiring, ambitious vision for the UN. The description fits the three favourites.

With a fairly high degree of alignment between staff, experts, and the global public that the strongest candidates are Guterres, Figueres and Clark -- by some distance -- the question now is whether the UNSC will choose from among these three. If they don't -- an outcome made more likely by the last-place finish of Figueres in the most recent straw poll -- another question will emerge: will the GA, bolstered by wide consensus and emboldened by a highly successful and publicized nomination process, accept a clearly weaker choice -- or tell the SC to try again?