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In November 2013, we started tracking British public attitudes towards international development, global poverty and overseas aid. We want to know – what makes people more or less supportive of efforts to address global poverty? What makes people want to donate money or volunteer their time to help distant strangers they will never meet? Why might the public support the government spending – an admittedly a very small portion of – their taxpayers money in other countries?

Because the Aid Attitudes Tracker (AAT) returns to the same respondents every 6 months, we have a unique insight into how and why people’s engagement changes over time.

We don’t just ask about attitudes. We also ask people what they do to get involved with international development and global poverty. For example, we ask them whether they have read, watched or listened to a news article about it; whether they have donated money to an organisation working on global poverty; or contacted a Member of Parliament on the issue. In all, we ask respondents about 18 different actions. We then use their responses to these 18 actions to create 5 behavioural profiles or audience segments.

  • Totally disengaged – do none of the 18 actions [34%*]
  • Marginally engaged – do very little and typically ‘low cost’ actions, such as reading or talking about the issue (and not necessarily in a positive way!) [36%]
  • Informationally engaged – tend to engage with information, reading and sharing, often through social media [16%]
  • Behaviourally engaged – tend to engage by doing, for example by volunteering, donating, or contacting their MP [8%]
  • Fully engaged – as the name suggests, do nearly all of the 18 actions [6%]

*Proportions correct as of November 2016

We also ask our respondents a host of other questions about their values, political positions, views on the economy, race, immigration, and the EU. We also ask people whether they think aid works, whether it is wasted, and whether they are persuaded by normative reasons for giving aid or whether they think that it’s good to provide overseas aid because it benefits the UK, for example through reducing the threat of terrorism or winning friends and influence. The AAT data allow us to examine individual-level dynamics: whether changes in values and other attitudes mean they become more or less engaged? Which factors matter and which don’t?

Tracking our respondents over the past four years has revealed a number of drivers, some positive and some negative. It has also ruled out other factors. For example, people’s changing views on the benefits of aid just doesn’t seem to matter for engagement.

So what are the positive drivers of engagement with global poverty? Three big ones stand out.

  1. Social norms – as respondents increasingly agree that other people are engaging and that other people admire those who engage with global poverty, they become more likely to engage themselves. For more on this, see here.
  2. Moral case – as respondents become more persuaded by the normative case for aid, i.e. that it is the right thing to do, they become more engaged with the issue. This might not sound all that surprising but, for instance, we do not see a parallel effect when people increasingly agree that UK aid brings benefits. See here for a discussion of the moral case.
  3. Personal efficacy – as people increasingly believe that they can make a difference, they are more likely to become engaged. See here for more details.

To find out more about the Aid Attitudes Tracker click here.

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About the author(s)

Jennifer vanHeerde-Hudson

Jennifer Hudson is Associate Professor in Political Behaviour at University College London. She is part of the Aid Attitudes Tracker (AAT) research team and Director of the UCL Q-Step Centre.

David Hudson

David Hudson is Professor of Politics and Development at the University of Birmingham. He is part of the Aid Attitudes Tracker team and the Director of the Developmental Leadership Program.

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