Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pork-Barrel Politics Keeps Voters Happy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Pork-Barrel Politics Keeps Voters Happy

Article excerpt

PORK pays. It wins votes.

That will be no surprise to members of Congress. They have long fought hard for "pork barrel" projects, federal jobs, and other federal spending in their districts, figuring voters would reward them when the time for reelection arrives.

Now two economists, Steven Levitt and James Snyder Jr., have confirmed the assumption of politicians. For a member of the House of Representatives, they find, the cost of "buying" one additional vote amounts to about $14,000 of extra federal spending in his or her district. Or put another way, on average an additional $100 in federal spending per person in a district produces 2 percent more votes for an incumbent.

Pragmatic politicians offer anecdotal evidence of the power of pork to swing elections. Yet political scientists and economists could find little systematic evidence to verify these claims.

In Cambridge, Mass., however, Mr. Levitt of Harvard University and Mr. Snyder of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology devised an ingenious method for measuring the political impact for the nation's 435 representatives of bringing home the bacon. Their work has been published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, also in Cambridge, at a time when a Republican-controlled Congress is demonstrating the bipartisan nature of pork-barrel politics.

"Really extreme conservative Republicans are saying: 'Cut, cut, cut,' in general, and 'spend, spend, spend in my district,' " Levitt notes. "We have people pandering for money who shouldn't be ideologically."

"Jesse Helms," Snyder says of the Republican senator from North Carolina, "is Mr. Fiscal Conservative on everything, except when it comes to tobacco-price supports." He voted last month to continue these subsidies.

In February, House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R) of Texas proposed abolishing price supports for peanut farmers. That prompted a sharp retort from a freshman Republican representative, Saxby Chambliss, from the peanut-growing state of Georgia.

The shoe was on the other foot in 1993. Mr. Armey fought unsuccessfully with other Texas legislators from both parties to retain the costly supercollider - located in Texas. …

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