Voter Partisanship and the Effect of Distributive Spending on Political Participation


  • Jowei Chen is Assistant Professor of Political Science and Faculty Associate, Center for Political Studies, University of Michigan, 5700 Haven Hall, 505 South State Street, Ann Arbor, MI (

  • I acknowledge the Hurricane Research Division of the Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), a Facility of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), for assistance with the hurricane surface-wind analysis data. I gratefully acknowledge John Guthrie and Matthew Dutton of the Florida Senate Committee on Reapportionment for their generous assistance with precinct-level GIS shapefiles and election results. I thank staff members of the Gannett Company, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit for facilitating release of the FEMA disaster assistance data. I thank Chuck Shipan, Skip Lupia, Andrew Gelman, Karen Long Jusko, Keith Krehbiel, David Laitin, Daniel Butler, Claire Adida, Ken Shotts, Brad Gomez, and Jason Barabas for valuable comments on earlier drafts. Previous versions of this article were presented at the American Politics Workshop at the University of Virginia and at the Political Economy Workshop at the University of Chicago Harris School. Replication data and code for the individual- and precinct-level results reported in this article are online at


Do distributive benefits increase voter participation? This article argues that the government delivery of distributive aid increases the incumbent party's turnout but decreases opposition-party turnout. The theoretical intuition here is that an incumbent who delivers distributive benefits to the opposing party's voters partially mitigates these voters’ ideological opposition to the incumbent, hence weakening their motivation to turn out and oust the incumbent. Analysis of individual-level data on FEMA hurricane disaster aid awards in Florida, linked with voter-turnout records from the 2002 (pre-hurricane) and 2004 (post-hurricane) elections, corroborates these predictions. Furthermore, the timing of the FEMA aid delivery determines its effect: aid delivered during the week just before the November 2004 election had especially large effects on voters, increasing the probability of Republican (incumbent party) turnout by 5.1% and decreasing Democratic (opposition party) turnout by 3.1%. But aid delivered immediately after the election had no effect on Election Day turnout.