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Testing Models of Distributive Politics using Exit Polls to Measure Voters’ Preferences and Partisanship


This article tests several hypotheses about distributive politics by studying the distribution of federal spending across US states over the period 1978–2002. It improves on previous work by using survey data to measure the share of voters in each state that are Democrats, Republicans and Independents, or liberals, conservatives and moderates. No evidence is found that the allocation of federal spending to the states is distorted by strategic manipulation to win electoral support. States with many swing voters are not advantaged compared to states with more loyal voters, and ‘battleground states’ are not advantaged compared to other states. Spending appears to have little or no effect on voters’ choices, while partisanship and ideology have large effects.

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Department of Government and STICERD, London School of Economics and Political Science (email:; Department of Government, Harvard University, and NBER; and Department of Economics, Royal Holloway University of London, Erasmus University (Rotterdam) and Tinbergen Institute, respectively. We thank participants of seminars at LSE, Harvard, MIT, Columbia, Cambridge, Oxford, Bocconi, Warwick, Ferrara and Pavia. We are grateful to James Alt, Ciro Biderman, John Patty, Albert Sole’ Olle and Vera Troeger for useful comments and suggestions and to Indraneel Sircar for dedicated research assistance. The usual caveat applies. James Snyder gratefully acknowledges the financial support of National Science Foundation Grant SES-0079035. Data and replication material is available at the Dataverse Archive: An online appendix containing additional information is available at:

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British Journal of Political Science
  • ISSN: 0007-1234
  • EISSN: 1469-2112
  • URL: /core/journals/british-journal-of-political-science
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