2016 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health


The 2016 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health is the latest in a series of surveys designed, conducted, and analyzed by the Kaiser Family Foundation in order to shed light on the American public’s perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes about the role of the United States in efforts to improve health for people in developing countries. This most recent survey updates trends on Americans’ perceptions of the most urgent problems facing developing countries, views on U.S. spending on health, and U.S. priorities for women’s health in developing countries. It also explores new questions on Americans’ awareness of the Zika virus outbreak and recent U.S. efforts to combat the outbreak both at home and in developing countries.

Executive Summary

The latest survey finds that a majority of the public wants the U.S. to take either the leading role or a major role in trying to solve international problems generally, as well as in improving health for people in developing countries specifically. However, improving health for people in developing countries is not one of the public’s top priorities for the ways in which the U.S. might engage in world affairs, falling behind fighting global terrorism and protecting human rights. Seven in ten Americans believe that the current level of U.S. spending on health in developing countries is too little or about right, yet the public is somewhat skeptical about the ability of more spending to lead to progress, with more than half saying that spending more money will not lead to meaningful progress. Republicans and independents are more skeptical than Democrats, and these partisan differences have increased over time. Another notable trend is the decreasing visibility of U.S. efforts to improve health in developing countries; just over a third of the public says they have heard “a lot” or “some” about these efforts in the past 12 months, a decrease of 21 percentage points since 2010.

The most recent survey took an in-depth look at the public’s views on the U.S. role in improving women’s health, with a particular focus on the recent outbreak of the Zika virus in Central and South America. Most Americans view promoting opportunities for women and girls as an important priority for U.S. engagement in foreign affairs, and about half (52 percent) say U.S. government is currently not doing enough to improve the lives of women and girls in developing countries. The public also largely recognizes that most women in developing countries are disadvantaged compared with their male counterparts, and that most women in developing countries (including those affected by Zika) do not have adequate access to birth control.  Despite this, there are mixed reactions to U.S. involvement in this area. While most want the U.S. to help women in Zika-affected countries access birth control, the public is split into equal thirds who say the U.S. is doing enough or not doing enough to help women in these countries make family planning and preventive health decisions (with another third unsure).

Section 1: Views of U.S. Role in World Affairs and in Global Health Efforts

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