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Electoral Incentives, Public Policy, and the New Deal Realignment

  • Robert K. Fleck
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    This paper develops a model of the effects of electoral incentives on policy, then applies the model to the New Deal realignment. In the model, policy is the outcome of an agenda-setter game between the president and legislators. Specifically, the president sets policy subject to legislative approval. The president’s ability to concentrate benefits in states with high electoral payoffs depends in part on his or her power to influence legislators’ prospects for reelection. Regression analysis shows that New Deal spending and roll call voting patterns in the House of Representatives support the model. Historical accounts of other aspects of New Deal policy, including labor and civil rights issues, are consistent with the model. Together, the theoretical results and the empirical evidence help to explain several striking features of the policy and politics of the 1930s, including (i) why a government dominated by the Democratic Party would provide high benefits to swing states and much lower benefits to the traditionally Democratic South, (ii) why favoritism of swing states increased from the 1933–1934 period to the 1937– 1938 period, (iii) why favoritism of swing states decreased from 1938 to 1939, and (iv) why, with the rise of the conservative coalition in Congress in the late 1930s, it was the representatives from traditionally loyal Democratic districts that created the strongest Democratic opposition to Roosevelt and the New Deal.

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    Article provided by Southern Economic Association in its journal Southern Economic Journal.

    Volume (Year): 65 (1999)
    Issue (Month): 3 (January)
    Pages: 377-404

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    Handle: RePEc:sej:ancoec:v:65:3:y:1999:p:377-404
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