Geographic Politics in the U.S. House of Representatives: Coalition Building and Distribution of Benefits


  • The author thanks Gregory Caldeira, Emery Lee, David Mayhew, Bruce Oppenheimer, Wendy Schiller, Joe White, and the anonymous reviewers for comments on this research and Karen Thornton, Brendan Elliott, and the Center for Statistics and Geospatial Data at Case Western Reserve University for their research assistance. An earlier version of this article was presented at the 2002 Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association, and the author owes special thanks to Diana Evans for her comments as discussant.

Frances E. Lee is Associate Professor of Political Science, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7109 (


This article argues that scholars need to consider the structure of House representation to better understand distributive politics. Because House districts (unlike states) are not administrative units in the federal system, House members cannot effectively claim credit for most grant-in-aid funds. Instead, their best credit-claiming opportunities lie in earmarked projects, a small fraction of federal grant dollars. As a consequence, I expect to find: (1) political factors have a much greater effect on the distribution of earmarked projects than on federal funds generally; and (2) project grants are a better support-building tool for coalition leaders than allocations to states. I test this argument with a study of the 1998 reauthorization of surface transportation programs and find strong support for both hypotheses.