The Journal of Politics


The Politics of Social Policy in America: The Causes and Effects of Indirect versus Direct Social Spending

Christopher Faricya1

a1 Washington State University


The United States has a divided social system in that both the public and private sectors provide citizens with benefits and services. The effects of political party control on public social policy are widely known. An area of study less understood is how partisanship influences private social benefits. I develop and test a theory that political parties’ choice between indirect and direct social expenditures is primarily motivated by a desire to alter the balance between public and private power in society. First, I find no statistically conclusive evidence that Democratic control of the federal government results in higher levels of total social spending. Additionally, my results show that Republican control of the legislature results in a higher ratio of indirect to direct social spending. These results have implications for determining the beneficiaries of social benefits and economic inequality.

(Received June 05 2009)

(Accepted January 25 2010)

(Online publication January 14 2011)


Christopher Faricy is an assistant professor at Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164.