Pandering and Pork-Barrel Politics

Eric Maskin, and Jean Tirole


We develop a model of pork-barrel politics in which a government official tries to improve her reelection chances by spending on targeted interest groups. The spending signals that she shares their concerns. We investigate the effect of such pandering on the public deficit. Pandering widens the deficit relative to a non-accountable official (one who does not have to run for reelection) if either the official’s overall spending propensity is known, or if it is unknown but the effect of spending on the deficit is opaque to voters. By contrast, an unknown spending propensity may induce the elected official to exhibit fiscal discipline if the deficit is transparent.


Accountability; pandering; deficit bias; redistributive politics; budget caps;

JEL codes

  • H1: Structure and Scope of Government
  • H7: State and Local Government • Intergovernmental Relations
  • K4: Legal Procedure, the Legal System, and Illegal Behavior


Eric Maskin, and Jean Tirole, Pandering and Pork-Barrel Politics, Journal of Public Economics, vol. 176, August 2019, pp. 79–93.

Published in

Journal of Public Economics, vol. 176, August 2019, pp. 79–93