Three Essays in Public Choice

Kevin Dwyer

Major Professor: Thomas Stratmann, PhD, Department of Economics

Committee Members: Bryan Caplan, Carlos Ramirez

Online Location, Online
July 06, 2022, 09:00 AM to 11:00 AM


This dissertation consists of three papers on public choice. The first chapter examines the relationship between money and roll call votes using 1990s dairy legislation data. Dairy farmers have competed with processors to maintain government protection since the Great Depression. If money affects roll call votes, then evidence will be found for votes affecting low salient, concentrated interests. Using a legislator fixed effect logit model, I show that farmers and the competing processors' contributions increase the probability of voting for their respective interests.

The second chapter explores relationships between pork-barrel spending and incumbent re-election. In 2011, Congress banned earmarks and eliminated one avenue to claim credit for pork-barrel spending. After the ban, the desire to bring additional federal spending back to home districts did not dissipate, but the process of gaining additional spending became more opaque. The opaque nature of the process makes it more difficult for legislators to obtain and receive credit from voters. One available channel to gain additional spending is to use informal relationships with the executive branch to obtain additional spending. Agency leadership with more political appointees allows more opportunities for legislators to engage leaders. The results find positive correlations between additional spending from politically responsive agencies and increased vote share.

The third chapter uses a synthetic control model to analyze Maine's voting system change from first-past-the-post to ranked choice voting in 2018. Instrumental voting predicts lower voter turnout, and expressive voting predicts higher voter turnout when the voting system switches to ranked choice voting. Research and economic theories of voting indicate that rank choice voting would increase third-party voter turnout. However, this paper does not find evidence that ranked choice voting increases voter turnout or third-party voter turnout in the House of Representatives. Furthermore, the synthetic control estimator demonstrates that ranked choice voting does not have a causal effect on voter turnout or third part voter turnout.