The budget myth that just won’t die: Americans still think 28 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid

November 7, 2013
foreign aid

For years, the example budget wonks turn to when they want to underscore the public's ignorance about the budget is the baffling, but persistent, belief that foreign aid is bankrupting the country.

"Foreign aid is the only program that [people] consistently favor cutting," said Bruce Bartlett with a sigh, "perhaps because of grossly overestimating its share of the budget." He went on to list poll after poll showing the public's wildly incorrect opinions about how much the United States spends helping other countries.

And yet the perception persists. A new poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that Americans think 28 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid. That would make foreign aid pricier than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, or all defense spending.

Of course, foreign aid isn't that pricey. About 1 percent of the budget goes toward foreign aid. And the Kaiser poll found that when you tell people that fact, it changes their opinions:

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But as of yet, budget wonks haven't had a shadow of success at convincing the country that foreign aid is a tiny sliver of federal spending.

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Brad Plumer | November 7, 2013