Re: Hail to the Pork

by Michael J. New

On Monday, Veronique de Rugy did a nice job highlighting an upcoming American Political Science Review article which shows that voters reward incumbent presidents for increased federal spending in their communities. Most of the existing research has focused on how pork projects impact the vote shares in congressional elections, but this study provides good evidence the president can also benefit electorally through increases in local spending.

Unsurprisingly, there is also political-science research which shows that politics has an impact on executive-branch decisions about the allocation of federal grants. For instance, in 2012, Political Research Quarterly published a study by Michael Leo Owens and Amy Yuen which tracked the allocation of federal discretionary grants to faith-based organizations during the Bush administration. Holding constant a variety of economic and demographic factors, they found that states that voted for George W. Bush in 2000 received both more-generous grant funding and a higher number of grants. Also, battleground states with a high percentage of African-American or Hispanic voters also received more grant funding for faith-based programs.

This is not to say that the faith-based initiative was necessarily a bad idea. Giving faith-based institutions a greater opportunity to apply for government grants was an idea that had some merit. However, the analysis by Owens and Yuen also provides evidence that regardless of who is in power, government programs — especially grant programs — are easily influenced by political considerations.

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