The Political Economy of U.S. Foreign Aid: American Legislators and the Domestic Politics of Aid

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Original Publication Date

July 1, 2010


Helen V. Milner, Dustin Tingley


Economics & Politics


Are there systematic political economy factors that shape preferences for foreign aid, a key component of American foreign policy? We analyze votes in the House of Representatives from 1979 to 2003 that would increase or decrease foreign aid by considering the political, economic, and ideological characteristics of legislators and their districts. To understand who supports and opposes foreign aid, we utilize theories of foreign economic policy preferences. By examining different types of aid policy, we show that domestic politics and especially the distributional consequences of economic aid can matter. The economic characteristics of a district and its left-right ideological predispositions influence support for aid in a systematic fashion over the nearly twenty-five year period. Stolper-Samuelson models along with political ideology can help explain legislators’ preferences toward aid.