Unlike Live Aid, which aimed to actually raise money for Africa, the proported purpose of the Live 8 concerts at the weekend was to raise the profile of African poverty, force the issue onto the agenda at the G8 summit and thereby to pressure the G8 countries to take action. Last weekend’s newspapers gave the concerts blanket coverage, and certainly the impression a visiting extra-terrestrial would receive from the media is that of almost unanimous public backing for the G8 conference to deal with the issue of African poverty. But what do the public actually think?

A YouGov poll on the 20-21st June found that most people thought the G8 summit should be concentrating not on helping Africa, but dealing with climate change and immigration.

People are equally sceptical of the G8’s ability to do anything about Africa even if it wanted to. Asked if the G8 countries could make a significant difference, directly or indirectly, to levels of poverty in Africa, 48% of people thought they could, compared to 71% of people who thought that African countries themselves could make a difference (only 16% of people thought the Live 8 concerts could make a difference.)

A separate poll asking about the problems facing Africa found that the majority of people do not believe that the problems facing Africa are unfair trade rules. When asked what the main three problems facing Africa were the three most common answers, by a considerable margin, were corrupt and incompetent government (79%), endemic civil war (51%) and the HIV virus (53%). Only 17% blamed the trade and investment policies of the developed world.

A small majority of people did, however, believe that the developed world had an important role in play in solving Africa’s problems. While 9% thought the continent’s problems were insoluble and 30% thought Africans had it within themselves to solve their own problems, 52% though it would need the co-operation of both Africans themselves and the financial input of the developed world. 70% thought the best way forward was a partnership between Africa and the developed world.

While people thought the developed world had a role to play, they had little confidence in the other side of the partnership. 80% of respondents thought that African countries were not doing enough to help themselves, and 83% had little or no confidence that aid given to Africa wouldn’t just end up in the pockets of corrupt governments.

The other demands of the Make Poverty History campaign also met with a mixed response. There was strong public support for debt cancellation – 53% supported cancelling some or all of Africa’s debts while 28% opposed it – although people were less confident that it would actually do any good, 47% said it would make a significant contribution to solving Africa’s problems, 38% thought it wouldn’t. Liberalising trade rules met with much less support – when asked if European farm subsidies should be abolished to help poor countries “even if that meant British farmers would lose out”, only 30% were in favour, with 44% against – it seems that many people think it is all well and good helping Africa, as long as it doesn’t directly disadvantage British people.

Both these polls were conducted last month, prior to the actual Live 8 concerts. It would be interesting to see if they have had any effect upon public opinion, althought early signs are that it hasn’t – a YouGov poll published on the 3rd July, so presumably conducted in the days immediately leading up the Live 8 concerts, still showed that 45% thought the G8 summit’s priority should be climate change, followed by the global economy (26%) with only 19% saying that African poverty should be the main issue.

One of the earlier polls also asked people’s opinion of Bob Geldof himself – 52% thought he was a genuinely good and hard-working man, but 17% thought he was a self-publicist and 17% thought he was a patronising bore. While this is obviously less important in the greater scheme of things, it would also be interesting, and perhaps more telling, to see how those figures have changed.

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