Geopolitics

The U.S. Has a Responsibility to Help End the Food Crisis, Most Voters Say

But when it comes to where the aid should go, politics and media attention shape attitudes

A wheat mill worker arranges bags of milled flour to be put back into the system to avoid wastage on June 14 in Kampala, Uganda. (Luke Dray/Getty Images)

The war in Ukraine is causing suffering well beyond the conflict zone, as millions of tons of grain sit in ports blockaded by Russian ships, and sanctions on Russia snarl agricultural supply chains already stressed by COVID-19 and climate change. A new Morning Consult survey shows just over half of voters think the United States has a responsibility to help feed those facing starvation.

Americans’ views on the food crisis
  • A majority (53%) of voters say the United States has a responsibility to help feed starving people in other countries amid the global food crisis. Democrats (68%) are far more likely to hold this view than Republicans (43%). 
  • While 61% said they had seen, read or heard at least something about the crisis, they’d heard less about whom exactly it is affecting. 
  • When asked about eight specific news events — from famine conditions or food shortages in Somalia, Afghanistan and Yemen to Turkey’s attempt to mediate a deal to export Ukrainian grain — at least 3 in 5 voters had heard little or nothing about each one. 
Millions are desperate for food, but a major U.S. aid package isn’t reaching them

Americans are paying about 12% more for groceries than they were last year, a familiar story around the globe as inflation takes a bite out of incomes. But for people surviving on just a few dollars a day, the rise in food and fertilizer prices means millions can’t afford to bring home enough food to their families. 

In Somalia, where 90% of wheat imports once came from Russia and Ukraine, the cessation of trade and years of failed harvests have already displaced approximately 800,000 people since the start of 2021, while more than 5 million people are in crisis conditions and thousands more have died. In Afghanistan, nearly 20 million people — almost half the population — are at risk of malnutrition according to the United Nations, while low rainfall and a COVID-19 outbreak have experts worried North Korea may end up in dire straits as well. And Iranians are suffering under the twin hazards of sanctions and poor global economic conditions, leading to ongoing protests

The United States has allocated more than $5 billion from the Ukraine aid package passed last month toward fighting the global food crisis, but Politico reports that USAID has spent virtually none of the sum, though a U.N. World Food Program official said the organization told the agency in May that most of the money could be put to use through existing programs right away. 

Where Americans are most and least likely to support food aid
  • Voters were more likely to oppose aid to countries with governments perceived as hostile to America, with North Korea, Iran and Afghanistan attracting the most opposition at 50%, 41% and 35% respectively. However, opposition to aid only exceeded support for North Korea and Iran.
  • Meanwhile, 71% of voters back aid to Ukraine, illustrating the role popularity plays in determining attitudes, especially when the details of the story aren’t breaking through to most voters. In Ukraine in particular, the problem isn’t a lack of food but rather the inability to get it out of the country and into the pantries of others.
  • When it comes to countries that get little media attention or are generally perceived as friendly, around half of voters support food aid. The severity of the food situation in a given country is not correlated with higher support for aid, further underlining Americans’ lack of familiarity with those world events. 
  • But, voters were far less likely to support food aid if it would affect their own bottom line:  58% are in favor of providing aid to countries at risk of a food crisis only if doing so wouldn’t raise prices at home, while 18% want to help regardless of inflation. 
Morning Consult