Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
March 28, 2015

Abstract of the Week

Douglas Kriner and Andrew Reeves have a new paper presented at the 2013 American Political Science Association conference showing that US presidents tend to pursue policies that benefit targeted constituents, especially in swing states.

“Presidents are often viewed as providing a universalistic counterbalance to the particularistic impulses of members of Congress. We examine the president’s role in divide-the-dollar politics, and fi nd that this is not the case. In an analysis of all county-level federal grant spending from 1984 to 2008, we fi nd that presidents are particularistic, directing dollars to specifi c constituents to further their own 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, to a much greater degree, presidents target counties within swing states and core states that strongly supported the president in the previous election. Swing state particularism is especially salient during presidential reelection years, and core partisan counties within swing states are most heavily rewarded. Our findings reject the notion that presidents simply pursue policies that maximize national outcomes, and instead suggest that presidents use their influence to systematically prioritize the needs of politically important groups of constituents.”

  • ResistanceIsUseless

    Sorry, but reads like it was written by a couple PhD’s to impress themselves and their compatriots with their ability to use big words. It does NOT provide any sort of new insight, at least not to me.

    It has never been my impression that Presidents provide “a universalistic counterbalance to the particularistic impulses of members of Congress.” Furthermore, my observations are that others do not believe this either. A specific example: in 1984 I was a college student in one of the states that had voted for Carter in 1980. I was opposed to re-electing Reagan and talked to people about the election. I encountered people who personally disliked the idea of re-electing Reagan, but planned to vote for him anyway. One of the reasons cited was something like: “He’s going to be re-elected anyway. The national economy is doing well, but our state has been punished because we voted against him four years ago. So, I will vote for him to get our state’s economy into recovery.”

    • Sean Kelly

      RIU: This is an abstract meant to capture the essence of the research,
      not a complete paper intended to present all of the evidence the authors
      will present. The “universalistic counterbalance” quote represents
      “what most people think” or, more to the point, some of the logic put
      forward by the Founders to rationalize the creation of a presidency:
      that presidents would consider the national interest in a way that more
      parochial members of Congress might not/would not. If you are interested
      you might want to track down the paper and see what evidence the
      authors marshal to reach the conclusion expressed in the abstract. It is
      worth noting that this is not yet a published study, and will be
      subject to peer review before its findings can be considered in any way

      • ResistanceIsUseless

        A link to the paper is right there in the posting. Admittedly I’ve not read much of it yet.

        That said, my main point here is that “most people” do not think that Presidents act for the benefit of the common good, but to reward their cronies and those who voted for them.

  • CA_Guy

    Many years ago, Tip O’Neill summed up this study in four words:

    “All politics is local.”

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