Pork versus Policy: Experimental Evidence on Majoritarian Bargaining with Real-World Consequences

Andrzej Baranski, Nicholas Haas, Rebecca Morton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pork barrel politics has long attracted controversy; difficult to prove and vigorously denied by those accused of it, the practice is nevertheless defended by others who argue that pork facilitates compromise. We design a novel field-in-the-lab experiment to study how legislators bargain over pork and real-world policy. We first introduce a new incentivized method to measure subjects’ ideological peak preferences and attitudinal strength. Subjects then bargain over a two-dimensional agenda: a donation to a political interest group and the division of a sum of money. Consistent with our theoretical model, we find that subjects trade off monetary and policy considerations. Subjects who are in the ideological majority and who prefer status quo policies extract better bargains, but minorities gain most from the possibility of compromise afforded by two dimensions. Finally, we show that artificially induced preferences fail to fully capture the bargaining dynamics observed using naturally occurring preferences.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)537-552
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Politics
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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