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Devex Special Feature Opinion Pieces Examine U.S. Public Opinion On Foreign Aid

Devex: Special feature: A history of American public opinion on foreign aid
John Norris, executive director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress

“…While the shape of [President] Trump’s approach to development will still go through many iterations, the fact remains that a sitting U.S. president calculated that there would be no significant political fallout to potentially gutting America’s aid programs. A look at the history of public opinion toward foreign assistance programs helps explain why and is essential in helping the community come to grips with where it now finds itself. … Fortunately, there is a rich collection of opinion polls on attitudes toward foreign assistance dating back to the push to get Congress to approve the Marshall Plan. By taking a dive into the data and history, some very important trends emerge that challenge how the U.S. talks about aid and its importance. … The Obama years brought a slow but steady improvement in the public’s view toward assistance, likely abetted by the relative absence of scandals and a steadily rebounding economy. Few expected the seismic shift in the approach to aid that was to come with the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States” (8/15).

Devex: Special feature: Ghana, grandma, and the factors affecting American public opinion on foreign aid
John Norris, executive director of the Sustainable Security and Peacebuilding Initiative at the Center for American Progress

“A number of important lessons emerge as we look at the history and trends around U.S. public opinion toward foreign assistance over the past 70 years. Perhaps most importantly, attitudes toward foreign assistance mirror, to a remarkable degree, shifts in the public’s trust in government. … [W]hat emerges is a complex picture for messaging around development: Be cognizant that aid is part of a much larger stream of public opinion toward government. Speak of specifics rather than the aid agenda as a whole, while ensuring that the aid agenda retains a focus on institutions and systems. Remind people again and again that the aid budget is smaller than they think. Have concrete examples of success close at hand. Realize that corruption is a cancer that steadily devours public support for aid. Find a balance between moral arguments, security concerns, and self-interest. Keep it simple and keep it clean…” (8/22).

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