Both earmarks and pork-barrel spending involve spending money on certain projects or specific events. Projects paid for by earmarking are more likely to benefit a larger portion of the population. Pork barrel projects are more likely to benefit a smaller group, specifically because a group of individuals related to the benefited group provides the funds for the project.

An earmark project may consist of spending money from a bank, federal or state government to pay for a needed service in an area. One example of such a service is a better road. Anyone who uses the road in the city is likely to benefit. It may be a well-traveled road that provides a route for many on a regular basis. It benefits either the majority of the group or a large group. A road project paid for by pork barrel spending is work done on a road not used by the majority of people in an area. It may be located in a specific neighborhood and used mainly by those living or working in the neighborhood. It is paid for by people who live or work in the neighborhood or who have other associations with it. Because the project is specific and benefits a small group of people, it is labeled pork barrel.

It is found that pork barrel politics is more likely to draw criticism from taxpayers than earmark projects since a few individuals reap the benefit from it. The fact that a project is paid for by the wealthy and benefits the wealthy may bring up questions of inequality.