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Dixit and Londregan: The determinants of success of special interests in redistributive politics

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Dixit and Londregan. 1996. The determinants of success of special interests in redistributive politics. JOP 58: 1132-55.

In Brief

The Puzzle

Why do some groups get more pork than others? More precisely, why determines whether politicians will funnel pork towards loyalists versus towards swing groups?

The General Hypothesis

X: Parties might be equally able to provide pork to any group, or they may have advantages in providing to only certain groups (i.e. to loyalists).

  • When you have civil service reforms that keep the bureaucracy independent, parties have (more or less) equal access to patronage.
  • But otherwise politicians might set up a machine; they will have a comparative advantage in funneling pork towards certain groups, since they can best serve the groups they know best.

Y: Will parties compete to provide pork to the same (moderate) groups or provide pork primarily to loyalists?

  1. If parties can provide pork to any group, then pork goes mostly to the swing voters.
  2. If parties can provide pork most easily to loyalists, then you will observe machine politics (i.e. pork goes to loyal supporters)..

The Argument

When parties have an equal ability to provide pork to any group (X), they will funnel pork toward swing groups (Y). Note that parties do not distribute directly to voters that promise to support them; instead, they target pork at groups that have lots of persuadable voters. And a group of voters might be more persuadable for a few reasons:

  • Groups with lots of ideological moderates, e.g. a swing state (in US politics) or senior citizens (which is a cross-section of ideologies). Voters decide whom to support (electorally) by considering both ideological concerns and redistribution. Groups that are ideolgically moderate are more easily swayed by redistribution than groups that are ideological more extreme.
  • Poor groups (e.g. the poor). Each dollar of redistribution is worth more to you if you have less money to begin with.

When parties have a comparative advantage at providing pork to certain groups (e.g. when you have machine politics), then they will channel redistribution toward core supporters. This is more efficient (due to your comparative advantage) than trying to figure out which other groups you might be able to persuade.

  • But when two candidates are competiting within the machine, they will target the swing voters within the machine. As an example the authors present a story of two candidates competing for the Italian vote within New York's Tammany Hall.

Place in the Literature

Contrast with Stokes (2005).