Misperceptions of Relative Affluence and Support for International Redistribution


Gautam Nair

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Nair, Gautam (2018). Misperceptions of Relative Affluence and Support for International Redistribution. The Journal of Politics 80(3):815-830. DOI: 10.1086/696991.
Against a backdrop of vast income disparities across countries, this article develops a theory of how misperceptions of individuals’ relative international income shape mass support for cross-national transfers in the developed world. It tests this theory using a real-stakes experiment implemented on a nationally representative survey in the United States. I find that participants underestimate their percentile rank in the global income distribution by 27 points on average and overestimate the global median income by a factor of 10. Respondents who were randomly assigned to information on the global income distribution supported higher spending on foreign aid and cuts in agricultural trade protections at larger rates. A behavioral measure validates these survey data—donations to charities abroad rise by 55% relative to the control group. These findings contribute to our understanding of subjective perceptions, preferences for cross-border redistribution, and the conditions under which information can shape opinion and behavior.
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