POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Pork Barrel Politics

'Pork barrel' is a term used in politics. It refers to national government politicians spending huge amounts of money in their local voting districts to encourage voters to re-elect them at the next election. The idea behind the practice is that the money allocated to the representative’s district will benefit the lives of the local constituents, thereby securing their support and votes. Support in this context can also mean contributions to that politician’s next election campaign.

An infamous example of pork barrel politics is the tunnel project nicknamed the "Big Dig" in Boston, where a 3.5 mile section of highway was planned to be relocated underground. The Speaker of the House at the time, Thomas “Tip” O’Neill Jr. initiated the project in 1982 by directing federal funds to the tunnel project. The original budget of $3 billion was significantly exceeded with the project finally being completed in 2007 at a cost of nearly $15 billion.

See also: Coattail effect, Constituency , Election campaign

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