Do Republican and Democratic presidents vary in their geographic allocations of federal spending? Recent scholarship suggests that US presidents provide more federal outlays to districts represented by their co-partisans, but leave the issue of partisan affiliation unanswered. We explore that question using an updated database that covers federal spending programs over the 1984–2014 period. We show that the alignment effect found in previous studies cannot be observed for Republican presidents. We argue that Republican presidents may not use pork as much as Democratic presidents because their core constituency is fiscally conservative. One implication of the results reported herein is that the electoral benefits of distributive politics depend on the fiscal preferences of the electorate.
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See also Couch and Shugart (2000), Wallis et al. (2006), and Wallis (2010) on this topic. Similar evidence on the importance of political motives for the geographical targetting of federal policies is provided by Garret and Sobel (2003) for the example of FEMA disaster relief programs and Young et al. (2001) for IRS tax audits.
Various studies explore other types of heterogeneity. Kriner and Reeves (2015b) allow for heterogeneity across states, but not across presidents. Dynes and Huber (2015) distinguish between voters and representatives, but again do not focus on individual presidents or their parties. It thus remains an open question whether the partisan bias identified by all of those studies in the allocation of federal outlays is a general feature of presidential politics, or whether differences between presidents and their parties can be observed.
Note that for our study, it is less important whether presidents reward aligned voters or aligned representatives. We are concerned mainly with whether Republican and Democratic presidents differ in how they reward political alignment, not whether their primary targets are aligned representatives or aligned voters. While we define below a district’s alignment based on the partisan affiliation of the representative, we do not claim that it is the main dimension of alignment the president takes into account.
Compared to congressional variables, there is less evidence that senatorial politics distorts federal spending.
A further complication is that presidents may implement universalistic policies even if they are motivated chiefly by political concerns (such as ensuring their reelection), because they face—if we abstract from the idiosyncrasies of the Electoral College—a national constituency, incentivizing them roughly to focus on the welfare of the national median voter (Wood 2009). Equally, a universalistic president might decide to support specific districts out of universalistic rather than parochial motives. For the purposes of the present paper, we assume the simple case.
Our estimates are similar quantitatively when outliers are included.
We use an almost identical specification, and arrive at very similar results. Using Berry et al.(2010)’s specification yields identical results
We follow Berry et al. and assess the effect of the president on the budget for the following year. For that reason, 1993 is classified as being under a Republican president, while 2001 is classified as being under a Democratic president. Changing that assumption does not affect the results significantly.
Note that the subperiods are defined using a lag of one year. For example, Bill Clinton’s term is treated as beginning in 1994 and not 1993, since the federal budget for 1993 already was in place when Clinton entered office.
For the regressions at hand, we rely on the federal spending data from the FAADS+ database, which is available for 2000–2014. Since we use a smaller and more disaggregated sample and do not need to compare the results below with the original Berry et al. results, we do not drop outliers from the specifications.
Net federal outlays went from $3517 billion in 2009 (the last fiscal year decided by Bush) to $3686 billion in 2015, in current prices. During a similar period, George W. Bush increased spending from $2159 billion (in 2003) to $3517 billion (in 2009) (source: Fred, https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/FYONET).
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We wish to thank participants at the Israeli Economic Association annual meeting, as well as seminar participants at the school of Political Science at Tel Aviv University for helpfull comments and suggestions. We would also like to thank Christofer Berry, Barry Burden and William Howell for sharing their data with us.
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Reingewertz, Y., Baskaran, T. Distributive spending and presidential partisan politics. Public Choice 185, 65–85 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11127-019-00740-1
- Distributive spending
- Partisan alignment