Party Government and the “Cohesive Power of Public Plunder”


  • We wish to acknowledge several scholars who provided valuable comments on earlier versions of this article: Gary Cox, Diana Evans, Gary Jacobson, Jan Leighley, Bob Stein, and several anonymous reviewers. We thank Kenneth Bickers, Gary Jacobson, and Bob Stein for generously sharing their data. All remaining errors, of course, are our own. We also thank David Fortunato for assistance in preparing the manuscript.

Royce Carroll is Assistant Professor of Political Science, Rice University, MS 24, PO Box 1892, Houston, TX 77251-1892 ( Henry A. Kim is Assistant Professor of Government and Public Policy, University of Arizona, Social Sciences, Bldg. 315, Tucson, AZ 85721-0027 (


We argue that party government in the U.S. House of Representatives rests on two pillars: the pursuit of policy goals and the disbursement of particularistic benefits. Existing theories of party government argue that the majority party in the House is often successful in biasing policy outcomes in its favor. In the process, it creates “policy losers” among its own members who nevertheless support their party on procedural votes. We posit that the majority party creates an incentive for even the policy losers to support a procedural coalition through judicious distribution of particularistic benefits that compensates policy losers at a rate commensurate with the policy losses that they suffer. We evaluate our theory empirically using the concept of “roll rates” in conjunction with federal domestic outlays data for the period 1983–96. We find that, within the majority party, policy losers are favored in the distribution of “pork barrel” spending throughout this period.