Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Depressing Polls

At the end of today's class I showed you some poll data on the public's opinion on cutting foreign aid. This result has been fairly consistent across a variety of polls.. For example Gallup repeat some of their polls on a yearly basis and this year's data, which has just been released, is no exception.

(A) majority of Americans said they favor cutting U.S. foreign aid, but more than 6 in 10 opposed cuts to education, Social Security, and Medicare. Smaller majorities objected to cutting programs for the poor, national defense, homeland security, aid to farmers, and funding for the arts and sciences.

One of the explanations for this rather ungenerous attitude is that the US public vastly over estimates how much money the government actually gives in foreign aid. This, again, has been shown by several research polls and seems to be a fairly consistent result. (Interestingly, and perhaps logically, people greatly underestimate how much of the US budget goes to other sources such as Medicare/Medicaid and defence.)

The only good news I can give you is that according to Kaiser Family Foundation 2010 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health when the specific purpose of the foreign aid is explained it is more likely to be supported.

When it comes to U.S. foreign aid in general, six in 10 Americans (61%) say the U.S. spends too much, and four in 10 incorrectly think that foreign aid is one of the two biggest areas of spending in the federal budget.  In comparison, when asked about “improving health in developing countries,” 28 percent say the U.S. spends too much, while nearly two thirds say such spending is too little (23%) or about right (42%).

“The old canard that most Americans do not support ‘foreign aid’ is a misunderstanding of how the public really feels,” said Kaiser President and CEO Drew Altman.  “When the specific purposes of spending abroad are put before the public, Americans are more supportive of health and development funding.”

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