Pork Barrel Politics - How Government Spending Determines Elections in a Polarized Era
Publisher: Columbia University Press
Conventional wisdom holds that legislators who bring “pork”—federal funds for local projects—back home to their districts are better able to fend off potential challengers. For more than four decades, however, the empirical support for this belief has been mixed. Some studies have found that securing federal spending has no electoral effects at best or can even cost incumbent legislators votes.
In Pork Barrel Politics, Andrew H. Sidman offers a systematic explanation for how political polarization affects the electoral influence of district-level federal spending. He argues that the average voter sees the pork barrel as an aspect of the larger issue of government spending, determined by partisanship and ideology. It is only when the political world becomes more divided over everything else that the average voter pays attention to pork, linking it to their general preferences over government spending. Using data on pork barrel spending from 1986 through 2012 and public works spending since 1876 along with analyses of district-level outcomes and incumbent success, Sidman demonstrates the rising power of polarization in United States elections. During periods of low polarization, pork barrel spending has little impact, but when polarization is high, it affects primary competition, campaign spending, and vote share in general elections. Pork Barrel Politics is an empirically rich account of the surprising repercussions of bringing pork home, with important consequences in our polarized era.