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Published December 1, 1997 | public
Journal Article

Deficits, Democrats, and Distributive Benefits: Congressional Elections and the Pork Barrel in the 1980s


In this study, we examine the extent to which legislators receive elec toral benefits from altering the geographic distribution of federal outlays. Although there are both theoretical and anecdotal reasons to believe in the existence of such benefits, previous empirical work has largely failed to verify the connection between pork barreling and reelection. We ex amine House incumbents during the 1980s, when budget deficits were allegedly forcing legislators to end the acquisition of distributive benefits, and we discover that legislators did in fact reap electoral benefits from pork barreling in the 1980s. We further discover that there is a sharp partisan difference in the marginal effects of federal outlays: additional federal monies strongly affect Democratic reelection margins but barely impact the electoral fortunes of Republicans. This conclusion has impor tant implications for current debates about Congress, divided govern ment, and the recent Republican takeover of Congress.

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© 1997 Sage Publications. First Published December 1, 1997.

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