Are Republicans good for the world’s poor?

Many progressives here in the UK have a stereotyped view of US politics (roughly speaking: 'Democrats good, Republicans bad').  These assumptions have been reinforced by negative perceptions of the Bush presidency.  And so there is an assumption that the Democrats are more likely to pursue policies that are good for developing countries, such as increasing foreign assistance, or opening markets.  But that is a one-dimensional view about US politics and American attitudes to foreign assistance .  As Todd Moss shows in an updated note:

Under President George W. Bush U.S. assistance to Africa has sharply increased, reaching $4.2 billion in 2005, nearly four times the level of 2000. This rapid growth is partly a result of a renewed sense that aid can fulfill humanitarian objectives and be a useful foreign policy tool—which helped encourage the creation of two major new aid programs, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR). But the conventional wisdom says that the party of Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton is a better friend to Africa than the GOP. Thus the scale of recent aid—and President Bush’s overall enthusiasm for Africa—caught many aid activists by surprise. 

The Republicans have in the past spent more on aid than the Democrats: Todd estimates that, based on past averages, the success of the Democrats in the mid-terms will cost Africa about $800 million. 

I think we forget the importance of the evangelical movement in the Republican coalition; and that the churches have continued to press for more aid for the developing world.  Furthermore, on trade policy, the Republicans are routinely less protectionist and less mercantilist than the Democrats. 

All of which shows that we should not make simplistic assumptions about politics in other countries.

Published by Owen Barder

Owen is Senior Fellow and Director for Europe at the Center for Global Development and a Visiting Professor in Practice at the London School of Economics. Owen was a civil servant for a quarter of a century, working in Number 10, the Treasury and the Department for International Development. Owen hosts the Development Drums podcast, and is the author Running for Fitness, the book and website. Owen is on Twitter and

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