Citizen preferences and public goods: comparing preferences for foreign aid and government programs in Uganda

Helen V. Milner, Daniel L. Nielson, Michael G. Findley

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

47 Scopus citations


Different theories about the impact of aid make distinct predictions about citizens’ attitudes toward foreign aid in recipient countries. We investigate their preferences toward aid and government projects in order to examine these different theories. Are citizens indifferent between development projects funded by their own government versus those funded by foreign aid donors, as aid capture theory suggests? To address this, in an experiment on a large, representative sample of Ugandan citizens, we randomly assigned the names of funding groups for actual forthcoming development projects and invited citizens to express support attitudinally and behaviorally. We find that citizens are significantly more willing to show behavioral support in favor of foreign aid projects compared to government programs, especially if they already perceive the government as corrupt or clientelist or if they are not supporters of the ruling party. They also trust donors more, think they are more effective, and do not consistently oppose aid conditionality. This experimental evidence is consistent with a theory that we call donor control which sees donors asbeing able to target and condition aid so that it is not fungible with government revenues and thus to be able to better direct it to meet citizens’ needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-245
Number of pages27
JournalReview of International Organizations
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Political Science and International Relations


  • Aid capture
  • Aid conditionality
  • Aid effectiveness
  • Clientelism
  • Corruption
  • Donor control
  • Experiment
  • Foreign aid
  • Public opinion
  • Trust
  • Uganda


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