The birth of pork: Local appropriations in america's first century

Sanford C. Gordon, Hannah K. Simpson

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


    After describing a newly assembled dataset consisting of almost 9,000 local appropriations made by the U.S. Congress between 1789 and 1882, we test competing accounts of the politics surrounding them before offering a more nuanced, historically contingent view of the emergence of the pork barrel. We demonstrate that for most of this historical period - despite contemporary accusations of crass electoral motives - the pattern of appropriations is largely inconsistent with accounts of distributive politics grounded in a logic of legislative credit-claiming. Instead, support for appropriations in the House mapped cleanly onto the partisan/ideological structure of Congress for most of this period, and only in the 1870s produced the universalistic coalitions commonly associated with pork-barrel spending. We trace this shift to two historical factors: the emergence of a solid Democratic South, and growth in the fraction of appropriations funding recurrent expenditures on extant projects rather than new starts.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)564-579
    Number of pages16
    JournalAmerican Political Science Review
    Issue number3
    StatePublished - Aug 1 2018

    ASJC Scopus subject areas

    • Sociology and Political Science
    • Political Science and International Relations


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