Parliamentary deputies in Brazil continually pursue “pork-barrel policies”, local public works projects in their constituency. This article, from the Journal of Politics, asks whether the pursuit of “pork” does in fact win votes. Having statistically demonstrated that it does not, it then asks what does win votes, and why do politicians continue to pursue pork despite the lack of a direct link between pork and votes. The author concludes that, while pork does not affect election results, money does, and pork-barrel policies serve the interests of local business elites, who in turn reward politicians with campaign contributions. As a result, there is an indirect, but not a direct, link between pork-barrelling and re-election.
Brazil is regarded as a perfect case of pork-barrelling helping the prospects of incumbent politicians, yet the article demonstrates quantitative evidence that “pork” is not a efficacious campaign tool: rather, it is money which affects re-election prospects, and pork is used to generate money. Other findings include:
- In a previous article, the author demonstrated that a third of incumbent parliamentary deputies do not seek re-election to parliament, and so engage in pork-barrelling to improve their prospects in non-parliamentary elections
- Pork-barrelling is not guaranteed to result in voter-recognition because the president can veto the proposal, leading deputies to aim for many small projects to hedge their bets and so only providing “pork” to small, localised communities
- Deputies must win votes in wide constituencies (regions sometimes covering hundreds of thousands of square kilometres) whereas the effects of pork-barrel projects tend to be more localised
- It is very difficult for deputies to ensure that they have un-diluted recognition for their pork-barrelling, as others can easily step in and garner some or all of the credit
- Campaign finance has a clear positive effect on the re-election prospects of candidates.
Brazilian deputies develop contacts with industrialists and landowners through pork-barrel amendments to budgetary legislation, which brings these industrialists and landowners valuable government contracts in return for which they finance the deputies’ campaigns. The link between pork and votes is therefore an indirect, rather than a direct one. Other implications are:
- Incumbents do not win re-election based on the amount of “pork” they “bring home” but on the perception that they are working hard to serve their constituencies’ interests
- Successful pork-barrelling must therefore be complemented by good PR, which requires money to finance the PR campaign
- The best source of this money is influential local businessmen who will finance the deputies’ campaign by way of reward for instituting pork-barrel projects from which the businessman benefits
- Research on pork-barrelling should not be isolated from research on campaign finance