‘The Righteous Considereth the Cause of the Poor’? Public Attitudes towards Poverty in Developing Countries

Hudson, Jennifer & Hudson, David. 2009. Political Studies

Events in 2005 such as the G8 Summit in Gleneagles and the Make Poverty History campaign have been successful in focusing the public's attention on the problem of world poverty. Despite these high-profile events and consistently high levels of public support for development assistance programmes, people's understanding of poverty and development issues remains shallow and levels of official development aid for many OECD countries fall well below the 0.7 per cent GDP goal. In this article we examine what factors drive individual-level attitudes of concern for poverty, how the media portray poverty in developing countries and how media portrayal affects individuals' concern for poverty. Drawing on extant literature on motivations for aid, we argue that individual concern for poverty can stem from self-interest or moral drivers. However, the implications of the different drivers do not appear to be well understood, yet they have important consequences for DFID and the OECD; strategies based on preference-accommodation rather than preference-shaping strategies may undermine rather than strengthen public concern for poverty. The data for the article come from DFID's 2005 Omnibus survey of public attitudes towards development and a content analysis of eight UK newspapers from January to December 2005. Using a binary logistic regression model we estimate individual concern for poverty in developing countries as a function of moral judgements, self-interest, awareness of poverty and assessments of achieving Millennium Development Goals, controlling for a host of demographic variables. Results from the content analysis show that economic and political frames dominate media coverage of poverty in developing countries. We find differential effects for moral and self-interested attitudes on concern for poverty; moral attitudes are positively related to concern, whereas self-interested attitudes are negatively related to concern.