Party Strength, the Personal Vote, and Government Spending


  • We want to thank Matt Jacobsmeier for research assistance. We also wish to thank Kathy Bawn, Francesco Caselli, Tasos Kalandrakis, Kevin Roust, and seminar participants at George Mason University, the London School of Economics, the University of Maryland, the University of Miami, and the University of Rochester for helpful comments. Primo gratefully acknowledges the support of the National Science Foundation (SES-0314786).

David M. Primo is Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Rochester, Harkness Hall 318, Rochester, NY 14627-0146 ( James M. Snyder, Jr., is Professor of Political Science and Economics, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, E53-457, 50 Memorial Drive, Cambridge, MA 02142-1347 (


“Strong” political parties within legislatures are one possible solution to the problem of inefficient universalism, a norm under which all legislators seek large projects for their districts that are paid for out of a common pool. We demonstrate that even if parties have no role in the legislature, their role in elections can be sufficient to reduce spending. If parties in the electorate are strong, then legislators will demand less distributive spending because of a decreased incentive to secure a “personal vote” via local projects. We estimate that spending in states with strong party organizations is at least 4% smaller than in states where parties are weak. We also find evidence that strong party states receive less federal aid than states with weak organizations, and we theorize that this is because members of Congress from strong party states feel less compelled to secure aid than members from weak party states.