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Pegging: The Power Of Pork


Up Front: TAXES AT WORK

PEGGING: THE POWER OF PORK

PORK PAYS OFF IN VOTES. POLS have long known this, but now, two economists have done a study to prove that empirically and to estimate how much pork it takes to win one vote. They found that each $100 spent per person in a congressional district for discretionary federal projects translates into 2% of the popular vote for an incumbent. Pork encompasses such things as highways, defense contracts, and job programs--not entitlements on the order of welfare, which are delivered by a formula. "There's no doubt pork is rewarded," says Harvard University's Steven Levitt, who, with fellow economist James Snyder Jr., compared vote tallies with federal projects from 1983 to 1990.

Interestingly, the study found the political power of pork prevails whether a district is Republican or Democratic. Maybe that's why lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are reluctant to give up spoils, despite cries on Capitol Hill about cutting fat from the federal budget. If pork were eliminated, says Levitt, House incumbents whose reelection victories were close could very well lose next time. And that's a lot of people: 10% of incumbents win with less than 55% of the vote.EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT, WITH OLUWABUNMI SHABI Mary Beth Regan


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