News Release

Kaiser Poll Finds Bipartisan Support For Spending On Global Health

Public Believes Much Aid Is Lost To Corruption

MENLO PARK, Calif. – Two-thirds of Americans say that the U.S. is spending too little or about the right amount on global health with one in five saying spending is too high, according to a new Kaiser Family Foundation survey on the public’s views of global health issues.

Americans overall are divided on whether or not more spending by the U.S. and other major donors would lead to meaningful progress in improving health in developing countries — 49% believe it would, while 47% believe it wouldn’t make much difference. Analysis of the survey shows that those who believe more spending will lead to progress are far more likely to support increased aid than those who think it would not make a difference (42 percent, compared with 18 percent).

One likely reason for the public’s mixed views on the potential impact of more spending is the perception about how much aid reaches the people who need it. On average, Americans say that less than a quarter (23 cents) of each U.S. tax dollar spent to improve health in developing countries is getting to where it needs to be on the ground, and that 47 cents of each dollar is lost through corruption.

“One of the strongest predictors of support was the belief that aid would make a difference. This means that documenting the impact of assistance and then communicating that to opinion leaders and the public is absolutely critical for advocates of foreign aid and global health,” Foundation President and CEO Drew Altman wrote in a column published today discussing the implications of the survey results.

When asked about spending “to improve health for people in developing countries,” two-thirds of the public says the U.S. is now spending too little (32%) or about the right amount (34%), while one in five (21%) say we are spending too much. Support for current spending is shared across party lines, with a majority of Democrats (74%), independents (66%) and Republicans (59%) responding that the U.S. spends too little or about the right amount on global health.

Further, six in ten Americans (62%) say that if the U.S. government decided to reduce spending on global health, there would be an increase in the number of illnesses and deaths in developing countries. About a quarter (26%) of the public believes that other wealthier countries would step in to fill the gap if the U.S. were to decrease spending.

The survey finds evidence that the visibility of global health issues has declined in recent years. Currently, 45 percent of Americans report hearing “a lot” (14%) or “some” (31%) in the past year about U.S. efforts to improve health for people in developing countries. This is down from 57 percent who reported hearing “a lot” or “some” in 2010. And roughly half of Americans (52%) now say the news media spends too little time covering global health issues, up from 41 percent in 2010.

The survey also explores views on foreign aid in general, and finds that while the public continues to overestimate the amount the U.S. spends on foreign aid, providing accurate information can shift opinion. On average, Americans estimate that 27 percent of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, when in reality is accounts for just one percent. After hearing that foreign aid represents about one percent of the federal budget, the share of people saying the U.S. spends too much on foreign aid drops in half (from 54% to 24%) and the share saying the U.S. spends too little doubles (from 17% to 36%).

“As we see in other areas of public policy, public opinion on U.S. global health involvement is characterized by a lack of awareness and misunderstandings,” said Mollyann Brodie, a Foundation senior vice president and director of Public Opinion and Survey Research. “This survey highlights some areas where greater awareness may counter misperceptions and redirect public views.”

The 2012 Survey of Americans on the U.S. Role in Global Health is the fourth in a series that aims to examine the American public’s views, knowledge and opinions of U.S. efforts to improve health for people in developing countries. Full survey results, question wording and methodology are available online at here. Drew Altman’s column examining the findings is also available online here.


The survey was designed and analyzed by public opinion researchers at the Kaiser Family Foundation led by Mollyann Brodie, Ph.D., including Liz Hamel, Bianca DiJulio, Sarah Cho, and Theresa Boston, with input and guidance from Jennifer Kates, Ph.D., and Alicia Carbaugh. The survey was conducted February 2-12, 2012, among a nationally representative random digit dial telephone sample of 1,205 adults ages 18 and older living in the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii (note: persons without a telephone could not be included in the random selection process). Computer-assisted telephone interviews conducted by landline (700) and cell phone (505, including 239 who had no landline telephone) were carried out in English and Spanish by Braun Research, Inc. under the direction of Princeton Survey Research Associates International. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is plus or minus 3 percentage points. For results based on subgroups, the margin of sampling error may be higher. Note that sampling error is only one of many potential sources of error in this or any other public opinion poll.

The Kaiser Family Foundation, a leader in health policy analysis, health journalism and communication, is dedicated to filling the need for trusted, independent information on the major health issues facing our nation and its people. The Foundation is a non-profit private operating foundation, based in Menlo Park, California..

KFF Headquarters: 185 Berry St., Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94107 | Phone 650-854-9400
Washington Offices and Barbara Jordan Conference Center: 1330 G Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005 | Phone 202-347-5270 | Email Alerts: | |

The independent source for health policy research, polling, and news, KFF is a nonprofit organization based in San Francisco, California.