Poster Paper: Not All Scientists Are Equal: Presidential Particularism and the Distribution of Scientific Research Funding

Thursday, November 7, 2019
Plaza Building: Concourse Level, Plaza Exhibits (Sheraton Denver Downtown)

*Names in bold indicate Presenter

Grant A. Allard, Clemson University

[496 words] Scholars and policymakers commonly argue that scientific research should be guided by the needs of the scientific community and not politics. In this vision, scientists’ project proposals for scientific research should be evaluated based on scientific merit rather than political expedience. I challenge these assertions by applying the theory of presidential particularism to explain how presidents and bureaucratic agencies favor some scientists more than others based on the electoral district in which scientists work. I identify that the core issue is that the political cycle plays a role in determining which scientists receive funding. I use quantitative, county-level evidence to investigate further and I provide a new perspective on innovations in science and technology.

Presidential particularism holds that presidents do not serve a universal constituency of voters, but instead focus on a narrower constituency that is important for their electoral success (Kriner & Reeves , 2015a; Hudak, 2012; Wood, 2009). Presidents and bureaucratic agencies have tremendous discretion over where to distribute funds after they have been appropriated by Congress (Berry et al., 2010; Arnold, 1980). Presidents use this discretionary power to target districts in electorally competitive states (i.e., swing states) and states that have reliably voted for the president’s party in presidential races. Scholars have empirically demonstrated presidential particularism in areas such as federal outlays to counties (Kriner and Reeves 2015a, 2015b; Berry et al., 2010), base closures (Kriner and Reeves, 2015c), federal disaster relief (Chen, 2013), and in interviews with former presidential staffers (Hudak, 2012). While scholars have theorized that presidents act particularistically in the distribution of scientific research funding (Berry et al., 2010; Arnold, 1980), scholars have not yet studied this topic because of lack of available data.

I use quantitative methods to empirically test presidential particularism’s ability to test presidential particularism in science. I developed a preliminary data set that consists of 25 years of data including 336,593 National Science Foundation awards, county-level electoral, educational, and demographic data. I propose a statistical model for testing presidential particularism. My model builds on the work of Berry and colleagues (2010) and Kriner and Reeves (2015a,b) while adding new controls that apply to the science policy domain. I test the robustness of my findings across several dimensions.

My preliminary findings suggest that scientists in counties of electorally competitive states can expect to receive more funding than scientists in identical counties that are not electorally competitive. Not all scientists are equal. More funding goes to scientists in counties in electorally competitive states, which provides support that presidents act particularistically in science policy. The scholarly significance of my finding is that elected politics plays a more important role in science policy than previously thought. This insight opens the door for policymakers to design science policies that take the political cycle into account. Political realities must be considered when designing science policies. Finally, I explore the next steps in my research agenda to investigate how presidents and political appointees influence the economically optimal allocation of funding for scientific research.