Incrementalism in appropriations: Small aggregation, big changes

Sarah Anderson*, Laurel Harbridge

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


U.S. federal budget dynamics, as a major attribute of the legislative and bureaucratic decision-making processes, increasingly calls into question the scholarly focus on incrementalism. What constitutes a " small" change is largely unspecified in previous research that has also been unable to assess incrementalism across multiple levels of aggregation. Using a unique budgetary database, this article analyzes whether budgetary changes are in fact " small" at different levels of aggregation. Surprisingly, a low proportion of changes are small by any logical standard. During most years, more than one-fifth of budgetary changes are greater than 50 percent, and nearly half are more than 10 percent. The level of aggregation is also important for assessing whether political variables influence incrementalism. A salient finding: change in party control reflects greater influence within micro-level budget decisions, while divided government manifests more impact on aggregate-level budget decisions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)464-474
Number of pages11
JournalPublic administration review
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 2010

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Public Administration
  • Marketing


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