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Individual Determinants of Foreign Aid Support: Do Individuals Think Like States?

44 Pages Posted: 8 Apr 2011  

Lauren Prather

Stanford University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: April 1, 2011


Do the determinants of individual support for foreign aid mirror the apparent motives behind state giving? Current theories on why states give foreign aid focus on state-level factors highlighting three main motivations: altruistic, strategic, and economic. This work examines whether these factors also predict individual attitudes about foreign aid in donor countries. To investigate this question, I use data from the second wave of the World Values Survey to perform a cross-national analysis of public opinion in donor countries. I explore the strategic hypothesis more rigorously by using data from the CCES survey administered in the United States around the November 2010 election. Questions about domestic welfare preference, class membership and education, and strategic concerns are assessed as predictors of support for foreign aid and tests of the state-level factors at the individual level. My results confirm that altruistic variables are universally good predictors of support for foreign aid, along with variables such as political interest and trust in government. Findings on the strategic and economic hypotheses are more mixed. While the economic hypothesis is confirmed cross-nationally, economic self-interest seems to play no role in determining attitudes in the American sample. Conversely, the strategic hypothesis is rejected cross-nationally, but it finds support among American respondents. These results raise a puzzle for future research about the apparent disconnect between strategic and economic state-level motivations for foreign aid and the more altruistic determinants of individual support.

Keywords: Foreign Aid, Economic Aid, Economic Assistance, Development Assistance, Military Aid, Public Opinion, Individual Preferences

JEL Classification: C42, D64, H50, I30, O10, F35

Suggested Citation

Prather, Lauren, Individual Determinants of Foreign Aid Support: Do Individuals Think Like States? (April 1, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Lauren Prather (Contact Author)

Stanford University - Department of Political Science ( email )

Stanford, CA 94305
United States

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