A little while ago, I discussed my views on the causes of pork (patronage) spending. Essentially, my view is that patronage spending exists because it provides an electoral advantage to incumbents by creating entry costs for electoral challengers. At the end of my post, I mentioned that I thought that proportionally representative electoral systems (such as Direct Representation) greatly curb patronage spending, but that I wasn’t sure why I thought that. I now have a better idea about why I think that:
Proportionally representative electoral systems curb patronage spending because patronage does not provide an electoral advantage to incumbents in such electoral systems.
First, in proportional representation, representatives always face competition both from other incumbent representatives who appeal to similar but different voter groups as well as from new entrants, because low vote thresholds mean the entry costs to new representatives are low. The absence of rules discouraging patronage spending does not insulate incumbents from either of these sources of competition because the competitors are not at a disadvantage in providing pork, so there are no incentives to oppose such rules, and strong incentives to adopt popular positions, such as advocating rules discouraging patronage spending, remain.
Second, representatives usually draw votes from geographically diffuse constituencies. This has two effects. First, this makes patronage spending relatively inefficient as a way to get votes because the benefits from pork spent in a particular geographic area will go partly to the supporters of the patronage legislation sponsor and partly to the supporters of other representatives. Second, because multiple parties may represent people in the same geographic area, voters have difficulty knowing who is responsible for pork in their area.
I have been looking for empirical evidence for or against this theory. So far, I have found only this paper that makes some similar theoretical arguments and provides a little empirical support.