Distributive Politics, Fairness, and the Allocation of Disaster Relief

47 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2017 Last revised: 14 Oct 2017

See all articles by Michael M. Bechtel

Michael M. Bechtel

Washington University in St. Louis

Massimo Mannino

University of St. Gallen

Date Written: April 25, 2017


How would citizens like public resources to be distributed and to what extent do policymakers’ allocation choices mirror those preferences? We investigate this question in the context of disaster relief and develop three theoretical arguments that relate to affectedness, need, and electoral ties. Using experimental data from a representative sample of American citizens we show that voters prefer allocations that reflect affectedness and need, but not electoral ties. We compare these patterns with observed relief aid distributions in the aftermath of natural disasters (1993-2008) in which federal authorities spent over $128 billion in total. Despite a notable degree of congruence between preferred and observed spending decisions, policymakers systematically allocate relief aid based on electoral considerations which conflicts with citizens’ preferences. These results shed light on which fairness norms guide individual preferences over public spending and the extent to which policymakers’ allocation decisions echo those views in democracies.

Keywords: Distributive Politics, Public Opinion, Conjoint Analysis, Disaster Relief

JEL Classification: C83, C90, D72, H12, H50, H84

Suggested Citation

Bechtel, Michael M. and Mannino, Massimo, Distributive Politics, Fairness, and the Allocation of Disaster Relief (April 25, 2017). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2943046 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2943046

Michael M. Bechtel (Contact Author)

Washington University in St. Louis ( email )

Campus Box 1063
One Brookings Drive
Saint Louis, MO 63130-4899
United States

Massimo Mannino

University of St. Gallen ( email )

Langgasse 1
St. Gallen, 9008

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