Domestic Public Support for Foreign Aid: Does it Matter?

There is a paradox as First World governments provide decreasing levels of foreign aid despite apparently high levels of domestic public support for foreign aid. This article examines this issue as a case study in government response to public opinion: do governments in democracies pay any real attention to what the public think? The study's methodology is to compare trends in domestic public support for official foreign aid programmes over time in five selected aid donor countries with trends in foreign aid expenditure as a proportion of Gross National Income. There are mixed results: in some cases aid performance increased or decreased in accordance with public opinion; in other cases performance went against public opinion. The reasons can partly be explained by faulty public opinion polling techniques but there also appears to be a substantial problem for public policy making in democracies. Governments are paying little attention to public opinion, at least in so-called elite policy areas such as foreign aid.