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Do Americans really want to cut foreign aid?

This chart from John Sides at the Monkey Cage made the rounds on the blogosphere yesterday: Several on the Internet noted the inherent contradiction: Most conservatives want a smaller government, yet they also do not want to cut anything — save for foreign aid. Turns out, conservatives aren’t the only ones who want to slash ...

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This chart from John Sides at the Monkey Cage made the rounds on the blogosphere yesterday:

Several on the Internet noted the inherent contradiction: Most conservatives want a smaller government, yet they also do not want to cut anything — save for foreign aid.

Turns out, conservatives aren’t the only ones who want to slash U.S. foreign aid — in part because Americans grossly overestimate how much the United States spends on foreign aid to begin with. As Bruce Bartlett pointed out in a Forbes column earlier this month, “A 2001 poll [shows] that half of all Americans thought foreign aid comprised at least 20 percent of the budget, and the average response was 25 percent.”

25 percent! Not quite. Really, foreign aid is less than one percent of the budget. In contrast, military spending is about 20 percent. In 2008, the United States spent $35.9 billion on foreign aid and $607 billion on the military. I could go on.

I regretted that Sides (or whoever got the raw data) did not ask whether respondents wanted to cut the military budget — though I can imagine the answer. The barely existent red sliver would have fallen between “dealing with crime” and that lower black line. But, I’ll note, even Secretary of Defense Gates himself is keen to stop the “creeping militarization” of U.S. foreign policy and bolster State Department and foreign aid funding.

Moreover, I can imagine that if Americans were asked about specific aid priorities — providing funds to build girls’ schools in Afghanistan, or to feed the hungry in Darfur, or build shelter for the homeless  in Haiti — they would want to cut very few. How these questions get asked matters a lot — hence, why “aid to the poor” is so much more popular than much-maligned “welfare programs” in the chart above. 

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