Presidential Particularism and Divide-the-Dollar Politics

TitlePresidential Particularism and Divide-the-Dollar Politics
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsKriner, DL, Reeves, A
JournalAmerican Political Science Review

When influencing the allocation of federal dollars across the country, do presidents strictly pursue maximally efficient outcomes, or do they systematically target dollars to politically influential constituencies? In a county-level analysis of federal spending from 1984 to 2008, we find that presidents are not universalistic, but particularistic -- that is they reliably direct dollars to specific constituents to further their personal goals. As others have noted, presidents target districts represented by their co-partisans in Congress in the pursuit of power. But we show that, at much higher levels, presidents target both counties within swing states and counties in core states that strongly supported the president in recent elections. Swing state particularism is especially salient during presidential reelection years, and core partisan counties within swing states are most heavily rewarded. Our findings challenge the notion that presidents pursue policies that produce nationally optimal outcomes, and suggest that presidents systematically prioritize the needs of politically important constituents.