Chart of the Day: Republican vs. Democratic Spending

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.


The federal government can spend money on social programs two ways: directly, via ordinary tax-funded programs (Medicare, food stamps, etc.) or indirectly, via tax expenditures (tax deductions for charitable contributions, employer health insurance, etc.). Christopher Faricy, a political science professor at Washington State, recently examined both types of spending over the past 40 years and concluded that the big spenders aren’t who you think they are:

The traditional narrative of Democratic party control of the federal government resulting in higher levels of social spending needs to be reconsidered….Social spending over the last 40 years grows on average around 5% a year regardless of which political party is sitting in the majority.

….An increase in indirect social spending has the same budgetary effect as direct social spending. For example, an increase in tax expenditures for private health care insurance that costs the Treasury $100 million dollars has the exact same effect on the budget deficit as a newly proposed public health insurance option that is projected at $100 million dollars….One major implication of these findings is that the jurisdiction of social provision, not the financial effort, shifts with changes to political party control of government.

Republicans, it turns out, actually spend a bit more money on social programs than Democrats, as the green bars in the chart below show (click for a larger image). The main difference? Democrats spend it on direct programs that largely serve “the elderly, the disabled, the unemployed, and the poor…ethnic minorities, racial minorities, and single mothers.” Republicans spend it indirectly on programs that “are biased towards workers who are White, full-time, in large companies, and high-wage earners.” But spend it they do.

Democrat vs. Republican Spending

DOES IT FEEL LIKE POLITICS IS AT A BREAKING POINT?

Headshot of Editor in Chief of Mother Jones, Clara Jeffery

It sure feels that way to me, and here at Mother Jones, we’ve been thinking a lot about what journalism needs to do differently, and how we can have the biggest impact.

We kept coming back to one word: corruption. Democracy and the rule of law being undermined by those with wealth and power for their own gain. So we're launching an ambitious Mother Jones Corruption Project to do deep, time-intensive reporting on systemic corruption, and asking the MoJo community to help crowdfund it.

We aim to hire, build a team, and give them the time and space needed to understand how we got here and how we might get out. We want to dig into the forces and decisions that have allowed massive conflicts of interest, influence peddling, and win-at-all-costs politics to flourish.

It's unlike anything we've done, and we have seed funding to get started, but we're looking to raise $500,000 from readers by July when we'll be making key budgeting decisions—and the more resources we have by then, the deeper we can dig. If our plan sounds good to you, please help kickstart it with a tax-deductible donation today.

Thanks for reading—whether or not you can pitch in today, or ever, I'm glad you're with us.

Signed by Clara Jeffery

Clara Jeffery, Editor-in-Chief

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest