Some worrying signs from Gallup. They conducted a survey recently on support for a range of activities undertaken by the US government. Overall, the results point to a dilemma: while the voting public are deeply concerned with debts and deficit spending, they are also broadly opposed to significant budget cuts. This is reflected in these findings from Gallup, which demonstrate the popularity of federal spending on programs like Medicare, education, poverty measures and even the arts.
One area stands out, however, and that is ongoing funding of overseas aid. This sadly confirms what we already know: organizations like GPP, CARE and the ONE Campaign have a tough road ahead to convince the public -- not to mention governments -- that the world can't afford to turn its back on the world's poorest communities, even in a difficult fiscal environment.
In the current environment of economic austerity the pressure is on to balance the budget. Yet of all the possible ways the US federal budget could be balanced, cutting foreign aid is insignificant by comparison to much larger items. If US citizens and policy makers are serious about balancing the budget then why not start with the elimination the $14 billion farm subsidies? Or a reduction of the nuclear arsenal with a projected saving of $38 billion? Or by deciding to reduce the number of troops in Iraq and Afghanistan by 2015 with a projected saving of $149 billion? The budgets of these programs are at least commensurate to the budget deficit challenge the US government is currently faced with.
The only solace I can see in these worrying poll results is that US citizens massively overestimate the amount of money the US Government actually gives in foreign aid. The American public believe that 27% of the federal budget is spent on aid, and would like it to be reduced to about 12% of the budget (see graph below).
If only the American public got their way on foreign aid!
The truth is that well less than 1% is actually spent on foreign aid, a miniscule target in the current fiscal environment.
In 2011, we need to redouble our efforts at making the case for targeted, effective aid. We need to help close the damaging perception gap that had Americans believing that foreign aid accounts for more than 25% of the federal budget when the truth is under just one percent (see above). And we need to persuade Americans that the short-term relief associated with budget cuts today will wreak havoc tomorrow in the form of geopolitical unrest, extreme and intractable poverty and global economic stagnation.
This year the Global Poverty Project is not going to take this challenge lying down. We are taking to the road across America to speak to hundreds of college campuses and schools, to share the 1.4 Billion Reasons Presentation. Our goal is to hear from you, and we want to start listening right now.
What do you think can be done to reverse the apparent politician momentum against foreign aid?
What do you think needs to be done to engage American people in the discussion around foreign aid, the Millennium Development Goals and America’s role in global development?
Please post your thoughts and comments.