Skip to main content Accessibility help

How Words and Money Cultivate a Personal Vote: The Effect of Legislator Credit Claiming on Constituent Credit Allocation


Particularistic spending, a large literature argues, builds support for incumbents. This literature equates money spent in the district with the credit constituents allocate. Yet, constituents lack the necessary information and motivation to allocate credit in this way. We use extensive observational and experimental evidence to show how legislators’ credit claiming messages—and not just money spent in the district—affect how constituents allocate credit. Legislators use credit claiming messages to influence the expenditures they receive credit for and to affect how closely they are associated with spending in the district. Constituents are responsive to credit claiming messages—they build more support than other nonpartisan messages. But contrary to expectations from other studies, constituents are more responsive to the total number of messages sent rather than the amount claimed. Our results have broad implications for political representation, the personal vote, and the study of U.S. Congressional elections.

Corresponding author
Justin Grimmer is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, Stanford University, Encina Hall West, 616 Serra Street, Stanford, CA, 94305 (
Solomon Messing is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Communication, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Building 120, Room 110, Stanford, CA, 94305 (
Sean J. Westwood is a Ph.D. candidate, Department of Communication, Stanford University, 450 Serra Mall, Building 120, Room 110, Stanford, CA, 94305 (
Hide All
Arnold, R. Douglas. 1979. Congress and the Bureaucracy: A Theory of Influence. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Ashworth, Scott, and Bueno de Mesquita, Scott. 2006. “Delivering the Goods: Legislative Particularism in Different Electoral and Institutional Settings.” Journal of Politics 68 (1): 168–79.
Bednar, Jenna. 2007. “Credit Assignment and Federal Encroachment.” Supreme Court Economic Review 15 (1): 285308.
Berinsky, Adam J., Huber, Gregory A., and Lenz, Gabriel S.. 2012. “Evaluating Online Labor Markets for Experimental Research:'s Mechanical Turk.” Political Analysis 20: 351–68.
Berry, Christopher R., Burden, Barry C., and Howell, William G.. 2010. “The President and the Distribution of Federal Spending.” American Political Science Review 104: 783–99.
Bickers, Kenneth N., and Stein, Robert M.. 1996. “The Electoral Dynamics of the Federal Pork Barrel.” American Journal of Political Science 40 (4): 1300–26.
Buhrmester, Michael, Kwang, Tracy, and Gosling, Samuel D.. 2011. “Amazon's Mechanical Turk A New Source of Inexpensive, Yet High-Quality, Data?Perspectives on Psychological Science 6 (1): 35.
Cacioppo, John, and Petty, Richard. 1989. “Effects of Message Repetition on Argument Processing, Recall, and Persuasion.” Basic and Applied Psychology 10 (1): 312.
Cain, Bruce, Ferejohn, John, and Fiorina, Morris. 1987. The Personal Vote: Constituency Service and Electoral Independence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Cassino, Daniel, and Lodge, Milton. 2007. “The Primacy of Affect in Political Cognition.” In The Affect Effect: Dynamics of Emotion in Political Thinking and Behavior, eds. Neuman, W. Russell, Marcus, George, Crigler, Ann, and MacKuen, Michael. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Chen, Jowei. 2010. “Electoral Geography's Effect on Pork Barreling in Legislatures.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (2): 301–22.
Cleveland, William S. 1979. “Robust Locally Weighted Regression and Scatterplots.” Journal of the American Statistical Association 74 (368): 829–36.
Cook, Timothy. 1988. “Press Secretaries and Media Strategies in the House of Representatives: Deciding Whom to Pursue.” American Journal of Political Science 32 (4): 1047–69.
Cox, Gary, and McCubbins, Mathew. 1986. “Electoral Politics as a Redistributive Game.” Journal of Politics 48 (2): 370–89.
Crespin, Michael H., Finocchiaro, Charles J., and Wanless, Emily O.. 2009. “Perception and Reality in Congressional Earmarks.” The Forum 7: 116.
Delli Carpini, Michael, and Keeter, Scott. 1997. What Americans Know about Politics and Why It Matters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Dixit, Avinash, and Londregan, John. 1995. “Redistributive Politics and Economic Efficiency.” American Political Science Review 89 (4): 856–66.
Downs, Anthony. 1957. An Economic Theory of Democracy. New York: Harper.
Erikson, Robert S., and Palfrey, Thomas R.. 2000. “Equilibria in Campaign Spending Games: Theory and Data.” American Political Science Review 94 (3): 595609.
Evans, Diana. 1994. “Policy and Pork: The Use of Pork Barrel Projects to Build Policy Coalitions in the House of Representatives.” American Journal of Political Science 38 (4): 894917.
Evans, Diana, Bickers, Kenneth N., Stein, Robert M., and Wrinkle, Robert D.. 2007. “The Electoral Effect of Credit Claiming for Pork Barrel Projects in Congress.” Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of the American Political Science Association, Chicago.
Fenno, Richard. 1978. Home Style: House Members in their Districts. New York: Addison-Wesley.
Ferejohn, John. 1974. Pork Barrel Politics: Rivers and Harbors Legislation, 1947–1968. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Fiorina, Morris. 1977. Congress: Keystone of the Washington Establishment. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Fiorina, Morris. 1981. “Some Problems in Studying the Effects of Resource Allocation in Congressional Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 25 (3): 543–67.
Gaines, Brian J., Kuklinski, James H., and Quirk, Paul J.. 2007. “The Logic of the Survey Experiment Reexamined.” Political Analysis 15 (1): 120.
Gerber, Alan. 1998. “Estimating the Effect of Campaign Spending on Senate Election Outcomes Using Instrumental Variables.” American Political Science Review 92 (2): 401–11.
Grimmer, Justin. 2010. “A Bayesian Hierarchical Topic Model for Political Texts: Measuring Expressed Agendas in Senate Press Releases.” Political Analysis 18 (1): 135.
Grimmer, Justin. N.d. . “Appropriators Not Position Takers: The Distorting Effects of Electoral Incentives on Congressional Representation.” American Journal of Political Science. Forthcoming.
Hopkins, Daniel J., and King, Gary. 2010. “A Method of Automated Nonparametric Content Analysis for Social Science.” American Journal of Political Science 54 (1): 229–47.
Jacobson, Gary C. 1978. “The Effects of Campaign Spending in Congressional Elections.” American Political Science Review 72 (2): 469–91.
Jones, Philip Edward. N.d. . “The Effect of Political Competition on Democratic Accountability.” Political Behavior. Forthcoming.
Kaplan, Noah, Park, David K., and Ridout, Travis N.. 2006. “Dialogue in American Political Campaigns? An Examination of Issue Convergence in Candidate Television Advertising.” American Journal of Political Science 50 (3): 724–36.
Kildee, Rep. Dale. 2008. “Representative Kildee Announces $2.5 Million for Bishop Expansion.” (accessed August 29, 2012).
Kriner, Douglas L., and Reeves, Andrew. 2012. “The Influence of Federal Spending on Presidential Elections.” American Political Science Review 106 (2): 348–66.
Lazarus, Jeffrey, and Reiley, Shauna. 2010. “The Electoral Benefits of Distributive Spending.” Political Research Quarterly 63 (2): 343–55.
Lee, Frances E. 2003. “Geographic Politics in the US House of Representatives: Coalition Building and Distribution of Benefits.” American Journal of Political Science 47 (4): 714–28.
Levitt, Steven D., and Snyder, James M.. 1997. “The Impact of Federal Spending on House Election Outcomes.” The Journal of Political Economy 105 (1): 3053.
Lodge, Milton, Taber, Charles, and Verhulst, Brad. 2011. “Conscious and Unconscious Information Processing with Implications for Experimental Political Science.” In Cambridge Handbook of Experimental Political Science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 155.
Lodge, Milton, Steenbergen, Marco, and Brau, Shawn. 1995. “The Responsive Voter: Campaign Information and the Dynamics of Candidate Evaluation.” American Political Science Review 89 (2): 309–26.
Martin, Paul S. 2003. “Voting's Rewards: Voter Turnout, Attentive Publics, and Congressional Allocation of Federal Money.” American Journal of Political Science 47 (1): 110–27.
Mayhew, David. 1974. Congress: The Electoral Connection. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Mettler, Suzanne. 2011. The Submerged State: How Invisible Government Policies Undermine American Democracy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Neugebauer, Rep. Randy. 2005. “Rep. Neugebauer Works for Funding for Texas Tech University Health Services Center, Rural Health Initiatives.” (accessed August 29, 2012).
Oppenheimer, Bruce I. 1996. “The Representational Experience: The Effect of State Population on Senator-Constituency Linkages.” American Journal of Political Science 40 (4): 1280–99.
Poole, Keith T., and Rosenthal, Howard. 1997. Congress: A Political-Economic History of Roll Call Voting. New York: Oxford University Press.
Schaffner, Brian F., Schiller, Wendy J., and Sellers, Patrick J.. 2003. “Tactical and Contextual Determinants of U.S. Senators’ Approval Ratings.” Legislative Studies Quarterly 28 (2): 203–23.
Sellers, Patrick J. 1997. “Fiscal Consistency and Federal District Spending in Congressional Elections.” American Journal of Political Science 41 (3): 1024–41.
Serra, Gilles. 2010. “Polarization of What? A Model of Elections with Endogenous Valence.” The Journal of Politics 72 (02): 426–37.
Shepsle, Kenneth A., et al. 2009. “The Senate Electoral Cycle and Bicameral Appropriations Politics.” American Journal of Political Science 53 (2): 343–59.
Sniderman, Paul M., and Grob, Douglas B.. 1996. “Innovations in Experimental Design in Attitude Surveys.” Annual Review of Sociology 22: 377–99.
Sprouse, Jon. 2011. “A Validation of Amazon Mechanical Turk for the Collection of Acceptability Judgments in Linguistic Theory.” Behavior Research Methods 43 (1): 155–67.
Stein, Robert M., and Bickers, Kenneth N.. 1994. “Congressional Elections and the Pork Barrel.” Journal of Politics 56 (2): 377–99.
Stein, Robert M., and Bickers, Kenneth N.. 1997. Perpetuating the Pork Barrel: Policy Subsystems and American Democracy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Strömberg, David. 2004. “Radio's Impact on Public Spending.” Quarterly Journal of Economics 119 (1): 189221.
Tversky, Amos, and Kahneman, Daniel. 1974. “Judgment under Uncertainty: Heuristics and Biases.” Science 185 (4157): 1124–31.
Wichowsky, Amber. N.d. . “District Complexity and the Personal Vote.” Legislative Studies Quarterly. Forthcoming.
Yiannakis, Diana Evans. 1982. “House Members’ Communication Styles: Newsletter and Press Releases.” Journal of Politics 44 (4): 1049–71.
Zajonc, Robert B. 2001. “Mere Exposure: A Gateway to the Subliminal.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 10: 224–28.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

American Political Science Review
  • ISSN: 0003-0554
  • EISSN: 1537-5943
  • URL: /core/journals/american-political-science-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *
Type Description Title
Supplementary materials

Grimmer Supplementary Material

 PDF (3.5 MB)
3.5 MB


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed