, Volume 25, Issue 3, pp 355-383

An experimental study of voting rules and polls in three-candidate elections

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Abstract

We report the results of elections conducted in a laboratory setting, modelled on a threecandidate example due to Borda. By paying subjects conditionally on election outcomes, we create electorates with (publicly) known preferences. We compare the results of experiments with and without non-binding pre-election polls under plurality rule, approval voting, and Borda rule. We also refer to a theory of voting “equilibria,” which makes sharp predictions concerning individual voter behavior and election outcomes. We find that Condorcet losers occasionally win regardless of the voting rule or presence of polls. Duverger's law (which asserts the predominance of two candidates) appears to hold under plurality rule, but close three-way races often arise under approval voting and Borda rule. Voters appear to poll and vote strategically. In elections, voters usually cast votes that are consistent with some strategic equilibrium. By the end of an election series, most votes are consistent with a single equilibrium, although that equilibrium varies by experimental group and voting rule.

We thank the Dispute Resolution Research Center at Northwestern University for funding this research. We also thank Roy Gardner, Ronald Harstad, Roberta Herzberg Reinhard Selten and several anonymous referees for helpful comments and Maria Deniston and Scott Schur for research assistance.