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Why Do Europeans Know The Size of Foreign Aid, and Americans Don’t

- December 15, 2010

“Xavier Marquez”:http://abandonedfootnotes.blogspot.com/2010/12/uncanny-accuracy-of-european-public.html raises a very interesting question.

bq. European public opinion turns out to be uncannily accurate at determining the answer to that question, far more than Americans, to the extent to which I wonder if the results discussed in this post are not simply driven by the way the question is asked in the US. The accuracy of European public opinion on this topic actually seems like a striking confirmation of the models of “information aggregation” I invoked earlier: when signals are unbiased, public opinion should converge on the true answer.

bq. … most Europeans seem to lack knowledge of how much ODA their governments give. (Though note the variance: the vast majority of Danes claim to know that their government gives aid, and something like 40% of them give the correct response).

bq. But this is the wrong metric to focus on. In order to determine how accurate the aggregate public opinion is, we have to do something like what Francis Galton did when he asked people at a country fair to estimate the weight of an ox, and calculate the median response among those who claim to know the answer (roughly, this is the answer that would emerge from a “democratic” vote). And here the results are quite different. … Europeans get it exactly right: the median answer in both 1996 and 1998 was precisely 3 (the correct answer). The median in most countries was also very close to the truth: Germans and Belgians overestimate the amount of aid they give (their median answer is 4, between 5% and 9%, perhaps because Germans suffer from a status effect and Belgians have Brussels?), whereas Greece, Spain, Finland, and Sweden (and Italy in 1998) slightly underestimate the amount of aid they give.

See also “this earlier post”:http://abandonedfootnotes.blogspot.com/2010/12/why-are-estimates-of-us-foreign-aid-so.html.