The Effect of Electoral Geography on Pork Barreling in Bicameral Legislatures


  • I thank staff members of the Albany Times-Union and the Center for Governmental Research in Rochester, NY, particularly Kent Gardner and Erika Rosenberg, for compiling and sharing data, for their technical assistance with the New York legislative pork earmark records, and for helpful background information. I thank New York Assembly Member James N. Tedisco and legislative staffer Phil Oliva for their help in compiling and providing Member Item spending records. I thank the numerous New York legislative staff members who generously agreed to be interviewed and provided invaluable information and anecdotes about Member Items. I thank Karen Long Jusko, René Lindstädt, Alberto Diaz-Cayeros, Beatriz Magaloni, David Laitin, Josh Clinton, Claire Adida, Jesse Driscoll, Neil Malhotra, Connor Raso, Jonathan Rodden, and the three AJPS reviewers for helpful comments on earlier drafts. Versions of this article were presented at the 2008 Midwest and American Political Science Association meetings and at the 2009 Conference on Bicameralism at Vanderbilt University.

Jowei Chen is Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, and Faculty Associate, Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109-1045 (


How does the electoral geography of legislative districts affect pork barreling? This article presents a formal model extending Mayhew's classic credit-claiming theory to account for the electoral geography of bicameralism. Under bicameralism, upper chamber (Senate) and lower chamber (Assembly) legislators who share overlapping constituencies must collaborate to bring home pork projects. Collaboration is easier between a Senator and an Assembly Member who share a large fraction of their constituents and thus have relatively aligned electoral incentives. But dividing a Senate district into a larger number of Assembly district fragments misaligns these electoral incentives for collaboration, thus reducing equilibrium pork spending. Hence, increased Senate district fragmentation causes a decrease in equilibrium spending. I exploit the 2002 New York Senate expansion as a natural experiment, examining how sudden changes in the geographic fragmentation of Senate districts account for differences in the distribution of pork earmarks immediately before and after the redrawing of district boundaries.