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Explaining the Senate Earmark Vote

- December 2, 2010

Monkey Cage reader and political scientist Jeff Lazarus sends this via email:

bq. I got curious about today’s Senate vote on the earmark ban, and ran a quickie analysis on how members voted. Three factorsrepresented electoral concerns: whether the Senator is departing after the lame duck session; whether the member is up for reelection in 2012, and Obama’s share of the vote in 2008. Three factors represented institutional concerns: the number of earmarks the member got in the fiscal 2010 spending bills, the member’s seniority (logged), and whether the member is on the Appropriations Committee. The model also controlled for the Senator’s party affiliation.

bq. To my surprise, none of the electoral variables were significant. However, all three institutional variables were: Senators were likely to vote against the ban if they are members of the appropriations committee, senior, and/or the recipient of a lot of earmarks. Party was also significant: Republicans were also much more likely to vote in favor of the ban.

bq. As I see it, there are two ways to interpret this. One is that Senators’ vote on the ban was determined more by their institutional stake in the earmarking system than by the immediate electoral politics of earmarks. A second view is that effect of “immediate electoral politics” factor is captured by the party dummy, and both factors influenced the vote. I’m leaning toward the second.

Jordan Ragusa “has some similar findings”:http://rule22.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/voting-on-the-coburn-amendment-distributive-or-horse-race-politics/, although he and Lazarus did not examine the exact same set of factors. As did Lazarus, Ragusa finds that it did not matter much whether the Senator was up for reelection in 2012, but it did matter whether the member was on the Appropriations Committee. Ragusa also finds that Senators from smaller states were more likely to vote against the ban — presumably because they can capitalize on their power in the Senate to send dollars home. Finally, Ragusa finds that conservative Senators were more likely to vote for the ban — a finding that essentially mirrors Lazarus’s finding with regard to partisanship, given how highly correlated party and ideology are in the contemporary Senate.