Working Paper

Foreign Aid, Foreign Policy, and Domestic Government Legitimacy: Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh

Date Published

Dec 1, 2015


Simone Dietrich, Minhaj Mahmud, Matthew S. Winters



Dietrich, Simone, Minhaj Mahmud, and Matthew S. Winters. 2015. Foreign Aid, Foreign Policy, and Domestic Government Legitimacy: Experimental Evidence from Bangladesh. AidData Working Paper #16. Williamsburg, VA: AidData at William & Mary.

Update: A revised version of this paper has been published in the Journal of Politics.


Foreign aid donors try to make themselves visible as the funders of development projects in order to improve citizen attitudes abroad. Do target populations receive these political communications in the intended fashion, and do they succeed in changing attitudes? Despite the widespread use of the practice, there exists little evidence about the effectiveness of this strategy. We embed an informational experiment about a U.S.-funded health project in a nationwide survey in Bangladesh. Although we find limited recognition of the USAID brand, explicit information about U.S. funding slightly improves general perceptions of the United States. It does not, however, change respondent’s opinions on substantive foreign policy issues. We also find, contrary to existing arguments that foreign aid undermines domestic government legitimacy, that the information increases confidence in local authorities. These results strengthen our understanding of the efficacy of promoting donor visibility and shed light on an important debate in the area of governance that assesses the effect of external actors on government legitimacy.

Funding: The authors are grateful for financial support from the University of Missouri Research Board and the International Studies Association.

Featured Authors

Simone Dietrich

Simone Dietrich

Associate Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Geneva in Switzerland

Matthew Winters

Matthew Winters

Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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