Reflecting the President’s hostility to foreign assistance, the Trump administration has repeatedly sought to curtail US foreign aid spending. Most recently, the administration attempted in August to cancel $3 billion in foreign aid through a process of ‘rescission’—but backed off in the face of pushback from Congress.
Past surveys, including prior Chicago Council Surveys, have found that Americans want to cut US spending on foreign assistance, including both military and economic aid. Yet at the same time, Americans also dramatically overestimate how much the US spends on those programs. When asked to construct their own US budget in the 2018 Chicago Council Survey, Americans allocate far more than the US actually spends, giving 4.9% of the budget to military aid to other nations, 4.3% to economic aid to other nations, and 4.7% to diplomatic programs abroad.
While Americans are generally in agreement on these levels of foreign assistance, there are notable differences in other areas of the budget. Defense spending in particular stands out as an area of partisan disagreement, with Republicans allocating 22 percent of the budget compared to Democrats’ 10 percent and Independents’ 13 percent. Conversely, Democrats allocate more funds to healthcare, environmental protection, and education.
Americans also broadly support a variety of US government programs and efforts abroad. Eight in ten Americans (79%) favor helping a government that is having free elections for the first time by giving it aid and technical assistance. Seven in ten favor sending monitors to certify that elections are conducted fairly and honestly (71%), and bringing students, journalists and political leaders to the US to educate them on how democracy works (70%).
A majority of Americans also support more coercive efforts, such as withholding developmental aid from a government that is not democratic or is not moving toward becoming more democratic (57%) and pressuring a non-democratic government with some economic sanctions such as reduced trade with the US (54%).
However, the US public is more hesitant to involve itself in the internal political conflicts of other nations. Only four in ten Americans (42%) favor the US supporting dissidents in a non-democratic country.
This analysis is based on data from the 2018 Chicago Council Survey of the American public on foreign policy. The 2018 Chicago Council Survey was conducted by GfK Custom Research using their large-scale, nationwide online research panel between July 12 and July 31, 2018 among a representative national sample of 2,046 adults, 18 years of age or older, living in all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. The margin of sampling error for the full sample is ±2.37, including a design effect of 1.1954. The margin of error is higher for partisan subgroups or for partial-sample items.
The 2018 Chicago Council Survey is a project of the Lester Crown Center on US Foreign Policy, and is made possible by the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Korea Foundation, the US-Japan Foundation, the generous support of the Crown family, and the Robert R. McCormick Foundation.