Why Do Certain Counties Get More Federal Dollars?

by Burt on December 12, 2012

When I give speeches for high school or college students on President Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal, one question frequently comes up: “If the New Deal spending of the 1930s did not work [i.e. reduce unemployment] why was it continued?

That is a good question, and my answer to it gives us a parallel for today: “FDR continued the spending because even though it didn’t slash unemployment, it did gain votes for his Democratic party.” Editor David Lawrence, writing in the 1930s, studied the 1936 presidential election and found this: Those counties nationwide that received the most federal funds were the counties that voted most strongly for FDR.

V. G. Coplen, the Democratic county chairman of Indiana, also reflected FDR’s goals when he wrote, “What I think will help is to change the WPA management from top to bottom. Put men in there who are . . . in favor of using these Democratic projects to make votes for the Democratic Party.” (FDR Goes to War, pages 42-43)

Unemployed people–even those made unemployed by the high taxes that stifle entrepreneurship–are grateful for political jobs created by federal tax dollars. They tend to vote for the party that gave them the jobs.

That lesson is not lost on today’s Democratic party and President Obama’s administration. After the 2008 election, Obama’s staff moved quickly to reinforce its voting base by awarding federal funds to targeted counties. A USA TODAY headline as early as July 9, 2009, read: “Fed Aid Faster to Blue States.” The story reported that data thus far collected showed that counties that voted for Barack Obama had already received $69 in federal funds per person, just eight months after the election, while counties that voted for John McCain had only received $34 per person.

If FDR were alive today, he might flash that infectious grin, tilt his head, and ask (with a twinkle in his eye), “Barack, how did you let the Republicans get that much money?”

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