The question Eurobarometer 50.1 asked is: "We are not talking about humanitarian aid, that is assistance provided in emergency situations, like wars, famine, etc, but about development aid. Do you think the (NATIONALITY) government helps the people in poor countries in Africa South America Asia, etc to develop? (IF YES) Roughly how much of its budget do you think the (NATIONALITY) government spends on this aid?"
The potential answers are:
2 Yes, less than 1%
3 Yes, between 1 and 4%
4 Yes, between 5 and 9%
5 Yes, between 10 and 14%
6 Yes, between 15 and 19%
7 Yes, between 20 and 24%
8 Yes, between 25% and 29%
9 Yes, 30% or more
10 Yes, but I do not know the percentage (SPONTANEOUS)
NSP No response/Don't know
The correct response is coded 3, between 1 and 4%.
So how did Europeans do in 1996-1998?
Their answers are collected in this table. As you can see, on average about 40-45% of Europeans say they don't know how much aid their governments give (though only about 20% don't know if their governments give any aid, or refuse to answer; another 20% say they think their governments give ODA (official development assistance), but don't know how much), and only about 16% give the correct response. So 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).
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. In this table, I've included only the answers of people who claim to know the actual percentage of the budget given by European governments as ODA (the number represents the percentage of people giving an answer who claim they know how much money their governments give as ODA), as well as their
So, collective opinion in the EU, in 1996-1998, "knew" the right answer to the question that seems to stump Americans. I wonder if the problem of bias in American estimates of ODA today is caused by the way the question is asked in PIPA's survey? Would Americans display such a large bias if the question of Eurobarometer 50.1 was asked of them?
[update: fixed some typos and other minor problems for the sake of clarity, 12/15/2010]