Polls Lie About Votes

In a poll last month, 848 US folk gave a median guess of 25% for “what percentage of the federal budget goes to foreign aid.” In 2009, US “bilateral foreign aid” was 0.6%. The survey’s median “appropriate percentage of the federal budget to go to foreign aid” was 10%. Polls have found similar answers for many decades. (more; HT Rob Wiblin)

Jason Kuznicki comments:

Clearly, then, it’s not enough. But just you try running on a pro-foreign aid platform. Yeah, that’s a winner.

But if the public actually believed what they said, that 10% should go to foreign aid, pro-more-foreign-aid would be a winning platform when combined with explaining how low is the current fraction. Yet politicians clearly believe otherwise, or they’d eagerly adopt such a platform. The obvious conclusion: in polls the public lies about how much foreign aid they’ll support via votes. Voters don’t want to hear about the true fraction of foreign aid, and will punish a politician who shames them by showing how little aid they give, and that they don’t want to give more.

An interesting meta conclusion: votes are not treated the same as polls. We’ll support some policies in polls that we won’t support by votes. This seems a challenge for Bryan Caplan’s view that we treat votes and polls similarly, since both have weak personal consequences re influencing the outcome.

Of course a better test here would be a poll that first informed voters of the true fraction of foreign aid, and then asked them what fraction would be appropriate. I’d bet that if a survey did this immediately after the above two survey questions, poll respondents would say they want more aid.  But without this immediate framing, I’m not sure.

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