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Africa

Aid to Africa

Support for aid to Africa is high, with only small minorities favoring cuts. Though there is not a majority calling for increases, the amount of tax dollars Americans propose be devoted to Africa is far higher than the actual amount--suggesting that they overestimate the amount actually going to Africa. Americans also appear to overestimate how much aid goes to Africa as a percentage of the total foreign aid budget and the portion of foreign aid they propose devoting to Africa is substantially higher than the actual portion. Support for aid to Africa is higher than for countries in other regions and higher than for foreign aid in general. At the same time, Americans show great pessimism about how effectively aid money going to Africa is being spent, with most assuming that large portions are lost to corruption.

In a January 2003 PIPA survey, respondents were asked whether "US aid to Africa should be increased, cut, or kept about the same." An overwhelming 79% said that aid to the continent should be increased (33%) or kept about the same (46%). Only 13% wanted to cut aid to Africa. In November 2000, PIPA found virtually the same responses, with 31% favoring an increase in aid, 50% wanting to keep it the same, and only 12% wanting to cut it. [1]

Support for aid to Africa rose substantially in the late 1990s. In June 1995, a Time/CNN poll found that just a slim 48% plurality wanted to increase (13%) or maintain (35%) aid to Africa, while 43% wanted to see aid cut. [2] In June 2002 the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations asked about US economic aid to African countries--giving four response options instead of three. A very strong 72% said it should be either increased (35%) or kept the same (37%). Only 22% thought it should be decreased (13%) or stopped altogether (9%). [3]

This question, which has been asked since 1994, distinctly shows a substantial strengthening of majority support for aid to Africa among Americans between 1998 and 2002. In November 1998, 62% favored increasing (24%) or maintaining (38%) aid to African countries, while 29% wanted to see it decreased (16%) or stopped altogether (13%).

More significantly, when Americans are asked how much of their tax dollars they would favor going to Africa, they propose an amount that is far in excess of the actual amount. When the January 2003 PIPA/Knowledge Networks poll asked, "How many of your tax dollars would you be willing to have go to economic and humanitarian aid for African countries?" the median response was $20. This is more than six times the actual amount--in fact, approximately $3 of the median taxpayer's bill goes to aid to Africa. Sixty-seven percent proposed an amount in excess of $3. [3a]

As discussed above, the percentage proposing an increase in spending on aid to Africa in principle is far lower than the percentage proposing a dollar amount in excess of the actual dollar amount. This suggests that Americans overestimate how much aid is actually going to Africa. This would be consistent with extensive polling showing that Americans generally overestimate how much is spent on foreign aid and propose levels far in excess of the actual levels. [See the PIPA report "Foreign Aid and World Hunger."]

Americans also appear to overestimate how much aid goes to Africa as a percentage of the total foreign aid budget and nonetheless favor a greater percentage going to Africa. In the January 2003 PIPA-KN survey, respondents were asked to "think about all of the money the US spends on foreign aid" and asked for their "best guess about what percentage of this money goes to economic and humanitarian aid for African countries." Of those who offered a figure, the median response was 15%--substantially more than the actual portion, which is 11%. When asked what they felt would be an appropriate percentage, the median response was 20% -- nearly twice as high as the actual amount. [3b]

When presented pro and con arguments for giving aid to Africa, pro arguments do much better than con arguments. In the November 2000 PIPA survey, an overwhelming 72% found convincing the argument that "Africa is the continent with the highest percentage of undernourished people, and where hunger is growing the fastest. Therefore the US should pay special attention to the problem of hunger in Africa" (26% found the argument unconvincing).

By a two-to-one margin (65% to 32%), respondents also found convincing the assertion that "Africa has the potential to become a significant market for US trade. Therefore the US should make an effort to help Africa get on its feet." By contrast, only 24% found convincing the argument that "The US has no vital interests in Africa. Therefore the US should make Africa a lower priority when deciding where to distribute its aid" (70% found that argument unconvincing). When repeated in the January 2003 PIPA-Knowledge Networks poll, responses were unchanged, with 23% finding it convincing and 74% finding it unconvincing. [4]

However, a 53% majority of respondents found convincing the argument that "the corruption in the governments of African countries is so widespread that US aid does little good there." [5]

Arguments For and Against Aid Focused on Africa
Pro
Convincing
Unconvincing
Africa is the continent with the highest percentage of undernourished people and where hunger is growing the fastest. Therefore the US should pay special attention to the problem of hunger in Africa.
72%
26%
Africa has the potential to become a significant market for US trade. Therefore the US should make an effort to help Africa get on its feet.
65%
32%
Con
Convincing
Unconvincing
The corruption in the governments of African countries is so widespread that US aid does little good there. The US should stop throwing good money after bad.
53%
41%
The US has no vital interests in Africa. Therefore the US should make Africa a lower priority when deciding where to distribute its aid.
24%
70%

Support for aid to African countries appears to be higher than for countries in other regions. As mentioned, in the June 2002 CCFR survey, 72% wanted to see "economic aid to…African countries" kept the same or increased. This was higher than the level of support for any other region asked about, including Russia (62%), Israel (55%), Afghanistan (51%), or Egypt (53%). This pattern was already clear in the November 1998 Gallup/CCFR survey, when 62% wanted to see "economic aid to…African countries" kept the same or increased, exceeding support for any other region mentioned (Russia 54%, Israel 52%, Poland 53%, Egypt 47%). [6]

Interestingly, support for aid to Africa is higher than for foreign aid in general. In the June 2002 CCFR poll, 48% wanted to cut aid in general (the same as in CCFR's 1998 poll), but only 22% wanted to see it reduced for Africa (7 points lower than in 1998). In the November 2000 PIPA poll, 40% wanted to cut foreign aid in general, but only 12% wanted to cut aid to Africa. [7]

At the same time, Americans show great pessimism about how effectively aid money going to Africa is being spent. In the PIPA-Knowledge Networks January 2003 survey, when asked to estimate "what percentage of US aid money that goes to African countries ends up in the pockets of corrupt government officials there," the median estimate was a whopping 60%. When asked "what percentage of US aid money that goes to African countries ends up helping the people who really need it," the median estimate was a paltry 20%. [8]

Americans overwhelmingly say that if they had more confidence in the effectiveness of aid they would support increasing it. Eighty percent of respondents agreed with this statement: "If I had more confidence that the aid we give to African countries would really help the people who need it, I would be willing to increase the amount that we spend on aid to Africa." Only 17% disagreed. [9]

It is likely that these perceptions of corruption are partially driven by misperceptions of how many African countries have democratic governments. (PIPA-Knowledge Networks January 2003).

 

 

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Recent Data Updates
Africa - August 2008 (PDF)