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Who gives more aid: Liberals or Conservatives?

UPDATE: Clever commenter c-sez may have found a huge hole in the Canadian data.  The US data is OK, though.  Regardless, as you read, our crack team of interns is recrunching the data.

UPDATE to the UPDATE: It is indeed a huge hole.  I attempt to fill it here.


I am inadvertently in the midst of a tiny little political dust-up here in the Canadian capital.  It will culminate later this week in a (scheduled) live TV debate.  According to the chase producer, they want me to debate whether the recent changes in the government’s aid policy is driven by Conservative intolerance for vocal NGOs, or whether it is simply the manifestation of smart aid.  CBC journo Brian Stewart believes the former; whereas I blow my nose at him (to quote Monty Python) and support Team Aid Reform.

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So, to prepare for this debate (which I imagine will go very much like the clip above) I had Kavya-the-intern (actually, she’s been promoted to Kavya-the-Executive-Assistant due in large part to her unnerving Google skills) dig up some numbers.  I won’t share them all here, but she dropped this little graph in my inbox and it gave me pause.

Huh? That can't be right...

Since the 1960s, the two periods when there were extended Conservative governments (Canada’s right-wing party to the non-Canadian readers) were also peaks in Canada’s overseas aid.  The conventional wisdom in Canada, as in the US, is that right-wing governments don’t believe in aid and that ODA is a sacred cow of the left.  In fact, I am guessing that if you polled Canadians, most would have guessed that this graph would be inverted: peaks with the Liberals, troughs for the Tories.

So, I barked for asked Kavya-the-Executive-Assistant to put together a similar graph for the US and voila:

Republicans love to give money to poor foreigners?!

Same thing.  Spikes in US foreign aid occur during Republican administrations.  Now my head is really spinning.  Frankly, I don’t know what to think about it.  This would appear to fly in the face of the right’s own rhetoric (and the left’s).

This is also corroborated by the unexpected decision by the new (rightish) Cameron coalition government in the UK to “ring fence” the DFID budget while virtually every other department gets slashed by up to 25%.  I am also reminded of a study done in 2007 called “Who Really Cares” which compared charitable giving among self-described conservatives and liberals in the United States.  It found:

Again, not sure what to think about this and need to do some more research.  But it would appear that the idea that liberal administrations give more aid may be a myth.  I am curious to know if the readers have any other data to share on this?

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  1. Scott Gilmore says:

    As an afterthought, perhaps I should compare ODA as a percentage of GNI as conservative overspending (.i.e. Reagan, Mulroney) may be distorting these numbers. Kavya!

  2. c-sez says:

    Errrrr, Scott. If this first chart is in constant USD, how have you controlled for fluctuations in the USD / CAD exchange rate? I presume the government of canada does not set its aid budget in USD.

    According to the Bank of Canada, the CAD hit its lowest point against the USD in the last 50 years of $0.6179, on 21 Jan 2002, which appears to be right around the lowest plunge point of the red section on the right. The CAD then had its *highest* value against the USD since 1960 in 2007, rocketing up to near doubling in value to $1.1030 – explaining most if not all of the massive rapid increase in USD terms since 2002?

    I looked these up here.

  3. Scott Gilmore says:

    c-sez: Great point. We got the data from the OECD database and will first check how they account for exchange rate fluctuations. Second, we’ll look at Cdn ODA spending as a percentage of GNI and if we can total federal budget as a better indicator of spending priority. Thanks!

  4. […] this week I stumbled across some data sets which led me to conclude that in Canada and the US, conservative governments spend more on aid.  In part, I was right.  In […]

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