Redistribution, Pork and Elections

44 Pages Posted: 6 Sep 2009

See all articles by John Huber

John Huber

Columbia University

Michael M. Ting

Columbia University - Department of Political Science

Date Written: July 23, 2009


Why might citizens vote against redistributive policies from which they would seem to benefit? Many scholars focus on "wedge" issues such as religion or race, but another explanation might be geographically-based patronage or pork. We examine the tension between redistribution and patronage with a model that combines partisan elections across multiple districts with legislation in spatial and divide-the-dollar environments. The model yields a unique equilibrium that describes the circumstances under which poor voters support right-wing parties that favor low taxes and redistribution, and under which rich voters support left-wing parties that favor high taxes and redistribution. The model suggests that one reason standard tax and transfer models of redistribution often do not capture empirical reality is that redistributive transfers are a less efficient tool for attracting votes than are more targeted policy programs. The model also underlines the central importance of party discipline during legislative bargaining in shaping the importance of redistribution in voter behavior, and it describes why right-wing parties should have an advantage over left-wing ones in majoritarian systems.

Keywords: elections, distributive politics, political parties

JEL Classification: D72

Suggested Citation

Huber, John and Ting, Michael M., Redistribution, Pork and Elections (July 23, 2009). Available at SSRN: or

John Huber

Columbia University ( email )

3022 Broadway
New York, NY 10027
United States

Michael M. Ting (Contact Author)

Columbia University - Department of Political Science ( email )

420 West 118th Street
New York, NY 10027
United States

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