Date of Award

August 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Policy Studies

Committee Member

R. Andrew Hurley

Committee Member

Chad Navis

Committee Member

Gregory Pickett

Committee Member

Adam L. Warber


How do politics influence the geographic distribution of science funding? I investigate this question in the context of presidential politics. Science policy scholars endeavor to develop a systems-level understanding—using empirical data and quantitative analysis—of how governments make decisions about science. In the United States, one of the most important decisions that governments make is the allocation of federal funding from agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation to researchers and universities. Science policy scholars typically explain the distribution of science funding through scientists’ or universities’ merit. I challenge these explanations’ assumption that presidential politics does not play a role.

I use the theory of presidential particularism to examine the role that presidential politics plays in the distribution of science funding. The allocation of science funding is a form of distributive policy, which is susceptible to various political stakeholders’ targeting funding to important districts. Scholars of the presidency such as Wood (2009), Hudak (2014), and Kriner and Reeves (2015a) have found that presidents also engage in this behavior, which they call presidential particularism.

Through quantitative analysis of 22,115 county-year observations spanning the period 1984-2018, across the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the Small Business Innovation Research program, I find evidence suggesting that scientists in electorally-competitive states, counties in Congressional districts that are represented by a Member of the same party as the president, and states that regularly vote Democratic, hold an advantage in receiving more science funding than other scientists. I also find evidence that peer review—when agencies make a credible commitment to following its recommendations—is an effective antidote for presidential particularism. I also find that, on average, counties can expect a decrease in the amount of science funding they receive in election years, although more counties will receive funding.

Finding evidence for presidential particularism in science indicates that science is subject to what I call the Politics of Science Cycle, in which funding is contingent on its political impact. Science policymakers should re-envision science as a vast ocean—in contrast to the contemporary metaphor of an “endless frontier”—because science is a common-pool resource that must be stewarded by all of its stakeholders—not just governments. My dissertation opens the door for more research into presidential particularism in science, the theory of presidential particularism, and the broader relationship of politics and science.



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