How Do Americans Feel about U.S. Foreign Aid And the Millennium Development Goals?

Both the Senate and the House Appropriation Committees have recently approved a cut in the FY2011 foreign aid budget, despite pleas from many, including Secretary Clinton.  The amounts approved are $54.06 billion by the Senate and $52.6 billion by the House; both lower than the $56.6 billion requested by the Obama Administration.  In the atmosphere of budget deficits and economic constraints, the cut did not come as a surprise.   However, as the 2015 deadline for the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is soon approaching, the need for continuing U.S. efforts to reach these goals has never been greater.  There is a conflict here, between the great need for foreign aid, and the current economic difficulties.  It leads us to ask: do Americans identify with the urgent need to continue to provide foreign aid to meet the MDGs?  Also, do Americans agree with the international development community on the U.S. responsibility to contribute to the millennium development goals?  

To answer these questions, a national poll was conducted in April 2010 by Public Opinion Strategies and Hart Research, on behalf of the United Nations Foundation.  It surveyed American’s attitudes toward foreign aid and the MDGs.  Here are some key findings:

  • – For the first time in five years, Americans’ view of the United Nations (UN) rose from above 50% favorable to 60% favorable.  This increase in positive impressions of the UN is due to the positive stories they have seen in the news on events such as the Haiti relief effort, humanitarian efforts in Africa, relief efforts in Chile and Peru, WHO humanitarian efforts, UNICEF humanitarian efforts and the earthquake relief effort in China. 
  •  – Two-thirds of Americans believe the UN is still needed today.
  •  – 59% of Americans believe international issues have an impact on them personally and only 15% believe international issues have no personal impact on them.
  •  – Although 89% of Americans say they are not familiar with the specifics of the MDGs, after hearing a brief description of the eight goals, 87% of Americans believe the U.S. should be very or somewhat involved in a worldwide effort to accomplish the MDGs by 2015.  50% of Pacific residents stated that the U.S. should be very involved in accomplishing the MDGs.
  •  – When asked to choose which MDGs are the most important to accomplish, Americans chose those goals that address the most basic human needs for survival.
  •  – The top 3 choices for the most important MDGs were: access to safe drinking water (47%), alleviating extreme hunger and poverty (36%), and eliminating gender disparity in completing primary education (27%).

Though it is discouraging to know that a huge majority (89%) of Americans are unfamiliar with the MDGs, one positive realization did emerge from this rather negative finding.    Most Americans are supportive of U.S. involvement in accomplishing the MDGs once they learn about the specifics.  If we want to accelerate our progress towards meeting the MDGs by 2015, one thing we cannot undermine is the power of the collective action from this majority of Americans.  In addition to the strategy that the U.S. government has recently mapped out for meeting the MDGs (see recent blog post), we need to educate and engage our communities, local leaders of all sectors, local media and audience about this collective responsibility toward eliminating global poverty.  We can start by taking part in the 2010 Stand Up Against Poverty movement, when individuals and organizations around the world will stand up and make noise against poverty around September 17th, 2010.