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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.


Providing new insights about a very old practice of government, Pork Barrel Politics details how pork barrel spending operates and shapes Congressional politics and policy making over the history of the Republic in an exhaustive and comprehensive analysis. Sidman demonstrates how legislators use and benefit from pork barrel spending, affecting a host of electoral and policy outcomes. A crucial book.

Robert Stein, coauthor of Perpetuating the Pork Barrel: Policy Subsystems and American Democracy

Sidman convincingly explains why Republicans and Democrats respond so differently to the pork barrel, once thought to be an unambiguous benefit to all members of Congress, and why the impact of pork barreling has varied over time. His central insight is that the electoral impact of pork depends on the type of benefits awarded and on levels of polarization. A rich historical account with persuasive theory and wide-ranging, sophisticated empirical analysis.

Diana Evans, author of Greasing the Wheels: Using Pork Barrel Projects to Build Majority Coalitions in Congress

A comprehensive and timely study, Pork Barrel Politics traces the history of distributive spending in Congress and its relation to Congressional elections at the primary and general election stages. Sidman finds that the effects of distributive benefits vary across parties, and can include significant indirect effects by deterring potential party primary challengers.

Gregory Koger, University of Miami

While several scholars have found that Republicans do not benefit from pork barrel spending, this book engages in a more comprehensive analysis of the relationship between party and pork barrel spending, presents a more robust body of evidence and—most importantly—models the effects of party polarization.

Daniel Palazzolo, author of The Speaker and the Budget: Leadership in the Post-Reform House of Representatives

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