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Public Engagement with Global Poverty: Explaining Support for Development

3 May 2012

To what extent do UK citizens support action on global poverty, such as giving international development aid, and why? Dr David Hudson (UCL) has recently been awarded a prestigious British Academy Fellowship to carry out a programme of research answering this question.

Successive UK governments have committed themselves to reach the long-standing international aid target of 0.7% of GDP. The decision of the current government to ring-fence aid spending in the context of widespread budget cuts elsewhere has sorely tested public support. Survey evidence tends to show high but dwindling support for giving money overseas, but the evidence also reveals widespread confusion among the public about how much aid is actually given—estimates vary wildly! Furthermore, it would be true to say that beyond the headline data about levels of support, policymakers and researchers know precious little about why and under what conditions people do and don’t support development aid. There is a huge need for a rigorous evidence base which can start to inform public and policy debates about what the public thinks rich country governments should do about addressing global poverty.

Building on the insights presented in the recent Finding Frames Report by Andrew Darnton and Martin Kirk (http://findingframes.org/) the research will use survey data alongside quantitative text analysis and experimental techniques to provide evidence on (1) what drives individual attitudes, (2) how global poverty is framed in the media, and (3) how different frames affect individual’s attitudes. For example, is addressing global poverty a matter of charity or justice, do people support aid for self-interested or altruistic reasons, does it matter if people act out of sympathy or empathy, and to what extent are these frames filtered through notions of ‘us’ and ‘them’?

The project builds on Dr Hudson’s previous research (co-authored with Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson) on public support for development. David gave oral evidence on these issues to the UK Parliament’s International Development Committee in March 2009 as part of the Committee’s investigation into ‘Aid under Pressure: Support for Development Assistance in a Global Economic Downturn.’

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