MENLO PARK, California – The Kaiser Family Foundation unveils the results of its fifth survey regarding the American public’s perceptions, knowledge, and attitudes about the role of the United States government in efforts to improve health for people in developing countries.
When asked which issue should be top priority for the American government pertaining to world affairs, Americans prioritized the fight against terrorism and protecting human rights. Improving health for people in developing countries followed after improving education in the developing world, protecting the environment, promoting opportunities for females, and assisting areas affected by natural disasters. Americans believed that the US government should spend money on improving health in developing countries “because it’s the right thing to do.” This moral reason trumps self-interest related to U.S. diplomacy, economy, or security.
This 2013 survey along with previous Kaiser surveys have found that misperceptions persist amongst Americans about how much U.S. foreign aid is given and how effective it is. Again, Americans overestimated the size of the federal budget that is allocated to foreign aid by thinking that 28% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, when in actuality it is only about 1%.
Further, four in ten thought a major part of U.S. foreign aid is given directly to developing countries to use as they see fit, when in reality most U.S. aid is directed to specific program areas. In fact, most aid does not go directly to governments, but rather to local or international non-governmental organizations, including to U.S.-run programs in developing countries. Yet most Americans do not think U.S. aid aimed at improving health delivers a good “bang for the buck,” and only about a third thought it increases self-sufficiency in developing countries. This is in line with the 83% of the survey who said corruption and misuse of funds is a “major reason” why it has been difficult to improve health for people in developing countries.
Nonetheless, Kaiser’s survey revealed that accurate information can change the perception Americans have about their foreign aid. When the survey respondents were told that only 1% of the federal budget is spent on foreign aid, the share saying “U.S. spends too little” more than doubled (from 13 percent to 28%), while the share saying “we spend too much” dropped in half (from 61% to 30%).
Over half of the American public reported hearing “only a little” or “nothing at all” about U.S. government efforts to improve health in developing countries over the past year, while the top global health topics Americans see in the news are hunger, HIV/AIDS, child health, and pandemics. Most Americans get their news from media sources such as television, newspapers, radio and the internet.
Almost half say the news media spends too little time covering global health issues, while just 12% say the news media spends too much time on the topic and a third say the amount of coverage is about right. When it comes to the content of that coverage, Americans reported hearing a fairly even mix of positive and negative stories. Overall, 28% said they have heard only or mostly positive news stories about global health in the past year (such as stories about successful programs), and a similar share, 26%, said they have heard only or mostly negative stories (such as those about corruption).
Kaiser is a non-profit, private operating foundation focused on the major health care issues in the US and abroad. It provides a non-partisan source of facts, information, analysis and journalism on health topics, free of charge to the public. The Kaiser Family Foundation is, furthermore, not associated with Kaiser Permanente or Kaiser Industries.
– Maria Caluag