“Pork-barrel” politics, strictly defined, is the geographic targeting of policy benefits by a governing or legislative majority, for the political gain of that majority. In comparative porkology, we expect that political systems differ in which geographic areas it is that get targeted. In single-seat district systems, where small changes in votes in a few marginal constituencies can make the difference between one party or coalition governing versus another, we can expect targeting of the marginal constituencies. At least we can expect that if there is a centralized party organization making policy decisions on behalf of the collective interest of the party (i.e., winning elections). Where parties are non-hierarchical and legislative organization more decentralized, it might be the safest seats, rather than the more marginal ones, that receive most of the attention. ((See, for example, Fiona McGillivray, 1997. “Party Discipline as a Determinant of Endogenous Formation of Tariffs”, American Journal of Political Science 41, 2 (April): 584-607. She shows a tendency of trade protection in Canada (disciplined parties, parliamentary government) to be directed at marginal districts, whereas in the USA most of it goes to safe districts.))
Australia, which has a general election on 7 September, should have a tendency towards porcine spending on marginal seats, given that one of the two legislative chambers is elected exclusively in single-seat districts and it is a parliamentary democracy that encourages collective action by parties. ((However much the ruling Labor Party has spent its current period in power attempting to refute this latter theory of collective party action.)) An article on news.com.au alleges this is so: “Follow the money trail: Pork barrels point to campaign hot spots.”
The news item offers a list of Australia’s ten most marginal constituencies, and what local improvements the ruling Labor Party and opposition Coalition are promising. Example: “Tony Abbott [Coalition leader] has pledged an upgrade for the Great Ocean Road, which happens to run through the nation’s most marginal electorate.”
An analysis of campaign pledges in Australia’s 10 most marginal seats reveals Labor has splashed more than $105 million cash around the ten most marginal sets.
The Liberals have pledged $70 million.
This pattern would certainly fit the theory. However, in in comparative terms, this seems rather petty. Besides, much (maybe all?) of the evidence offered here is in the form of campaign promises. Fundamentally, campaign promises aren’t pork. Pork is in the actual provision of geographically targeted spending.
Do Australian parties have a record of following through on their commitments to marginal constituencies when they win elections? Actual pork is about being able to claim credit for improvements delivered when in power, not merely promising to do stuff if (re-)elected.
Finally, an observation: from the news story, it would seem that Australian parties’ campaign promises are remarkably specific as to individual projects and their locations.