Numbers, Trends or Norms: What Changes People's Support for Aid?

Vol: 
DP 52
Author name: 
Wood, T
Year: 
2016
Month: 
December
Abstract: 

A growing body of literature exists studying public support for foreign aid in donor countries. To-date, however, most of this work has focused on publics’ views as they currently stand. In this paper I report on the outcomes of three separate survey experiments undertaken to see whether different information can change existing views about aid volumes. Each of these experiments was undertaken using online samples of approximately 1,000 Australian survey participants who were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups. In all three experiments the control group was asked a very basic question about whether they wanted Australian government aid increased or decreased. Each treatment group was asked the same question but with some additional information. In the first experiment treated participants were given information on how little aid the Australian government gives. In the second experiment treated participants were shown how Australian aid has declined as a share of Gross National Income over time. In the third experiment treated participants were given information comparing recent aid cuts in Australia to increases in aid in the United Kingdom. Of these three treatments, the first had no effect and the second had only a very marginal effect. The third treatment, however, had an effect that was both statistically and substantively significant, raising support for aid increases and decreasing support for aid cuts. As I discuss these findings, I discuss the psychological processes that likely explain them. I highlight how motivated reasoning probably explains the broad absence of findings in the first two experiments and I contend that a desire to conform to international norms is the most likely explanation of the third treatment.

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