Social Choice and Welfare

, Volume 36, Issue 3–4, pp 365–382 | Cite as

A social choice theory of legitimacy

  • John W. Patty
  • Elizabeth Maggie Penn


We develop a formal theory of legitimate collective choice. In our theory a policy choice is legitimate if the process through which the final choice was determined is consistent with some principle that can be used to (perhaps partially) rank the potential policy choices. The set of principles in any choice situation is taken to be exogenous, but a decision-making process is defined so as to deal with any nontrivial set of principles. Such a process is itself referred to as legitimate if it is guaranteed to select a legitimate outcome for each possible exogenous set of principles. We characterize the class of procedures that are legitimate, prove that legitimate policy decisions consistent with principles always exist and characterize the set of policy decisions that are legitimate for a any given set of principles. As we do not require the principles to be weak orders of the alternatives, our theory provides a notion of legitimacy that can be satisfied even when the guiding principles are potentially cyclic or incomplete. Accordingly, our theory illustrates one nontautological means by which majoritarian principles can be reconciled with legitimacy.


Binary Relation Decision Sequence Deliberative Democracy Collective Choice Social Choice Theory 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Arrow KJ (1951) Social choice and individual values. Wiley, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  2. Austen-Smith D, Banks JS (1996) Information aggregation, rationality and the Condorcet Jury theorem. Am Polit Sci Rev 90: 3445CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Banks JS (1985) Sophisticated voting outcomes and agenda control. Soc Choice Welf 1: 295–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Banks JS, Bordes GA (1988) Voting games, indifference, and consistent sequential choice rules. Soc Choice Welf 5(1): 31–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bohman J, Rehg W (1997) Deliberative democracy: essays on reason and politics. MIT Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  6. Bordes G (1983) On the possibility of reasonable consistent majoritarian choice: some positive results. J Econ Theory 31: 122–132CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Buchanan JM, Tullock G (1962) The calculus of consent: logical foundations of constitutional democracy. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  8. Cohen J (1986) An epistemic conception of democracy. Ethics 97(1): 6–25CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Crombez C, Groseclose T, Krehbiel K (2006) Gatekeeping. J Polit 68: 322–334CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dickson E, Hafer C, Landa D (2008) Cognition and strategy: a deliberation experiment. J Polit 70: 974–989CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Downs A (1957) An economic theory of democracy. Harper and Row, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  12. Dryzek JS, List C (2003) Social choice theory and deliberative democracy: a reconciliation. Br J Polit Sci 33: 1–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Dutta B (1988) Covering sets and a new Condorcet choice correspondence. J Econ Theory 44: 63–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Dutta B, Laslier JF (1999) Comparison functions and choice correspondences. Soc Choice Welf 16: 513–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Elster J (1998) Deliberative democracy. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  16. Farquharson R (1969) The theory of voting. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  17. Farrar C, Fishkin J, Green D, List C, Luskin R, Paluck E (2010) Disaggregating deliberations effects: an experiment within a deliberative poll. Br J Polit Sci 40: 333–347CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Feddersen TJ, Pesendorfer W (1998) Convicting the innocent: the inferiority of unanimous jury verdicts. Am Polit Sci Rev 92: 23–36CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Gibbard A (1973) Manipulation of voting schemes: a general result. Econometrica 41(4): 587–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Grofman B, Feld SL (1988) Rousseau’s general will: a Condorcetian perspective. Am Polit Sci Rev 82(2): 567–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Grofman, BN, Owen, G (eds) (1986) Information pooling and group decision making. JAI Press, GreenwichGoogle Scholar
  22. Gutmann A, Thompson DF (1996) Democracy and disagreement. Harvard University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  23. Habermas J (1987) The theory of communicative action. Beacon, BostonGoogle Scholar
  24. Habermas J (1998) Between facts and norms: contributions to a discourse theory of law and democracy. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  25. Hafer C, Landa D (2007) Deliberation as self-discovery and the institutions for political speech. J Theor Polit 19: 329–360CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Johnson J (1998) Arguing for deliberation. In: Elster J (ed) Deliberative democracy. Cambridge University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  27. Knight J, Johnson J (1994) Aggregation and deliberation: on the possibility of democratic legitimacy. Polit Theory 22: 277–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Knight J, Johnson J (1997) What sort of equality does democratic deliberation require?. In: Bohman J, Rehg W (eds) Deliberative democracy. MIT, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  29. Ladha K (1992) The Condorcet Jury theorem, free speech and correlated votes. Am J Polit Sci 36: 617–634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Ladha K, Miller G, Oppenheimer J (1996) Information aggregation by majority rule: theory and experiments. Typescript, University of MarylandGoogle Scholar
  31. Landa D, Meirowitz A (2008) Game theory, information, and deliberative democracy. Am J Polit Sci 53: 427–444CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Laslier JF (1997) Tournament solutions and majority voting. Springer-Verlag, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  33. List C, Goodin RE (2001) Epistemic democracy: generalizing the Condorcet Jury theorem. J Polit Philos 9: 277–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Mackie G (2003) Democracy defended. Cambridge University Press, New York, NYCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. May K (1952) A set of independent necessary and sufficient conditions for simple majority decision. Econometrica 20: 680–684CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. McGann AJ (2006) The logic of democracy: reconciling equality, deliberation, and minority protection. University of Michigan Press, Ann ArborGoogle Scholar
  37. McKelvey RD (1986) Covering, dominance, and institution-free properties of social choice. Am J Polit Sci 30: 283–314CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Meirowitz A (2006) Designing institutions to aggregate preferences and information. Quart J Polit Sci 1: 373–392CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Meirowitz A (2007) In defense of exclusionary deliberation: communication and voting with private beliefs and values. J Theor Polit 19: 301CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Miller NR (1980) A new solution set for tournaments and majority voting: further graph-theoretical approaches to the theory of voting. Am J Polit Sci 24: 68–96CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Miller D (1992) Deliberative democracy and social choice. Polit Stud 40: 54–67CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Miller NR (1995) Committees, agendas, and voting. Harwood Academic, LondonGoogle Scholar
  43. Niou EM, Ordeshook PC (1985) Universalism in congress. Am J Polit Sci 29: 246–258CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Ordeshook P, Schwartz T (1987) Agendas and the control of political outcomes. Am Polit Sci Rev 81(1): 179–199CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Patty JW (2007) Incommensurability and issue voting. J Theor Polit 19: 115–131CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Penn EM (2006) Alternate definitions of the uncovered set, and their implications. Soc Choice Welf 27: 83–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Penn EM, Patty JW, Gailmard S (n.d.) Manipulation and Single-peakedness: a general result. Am J Polit Sci, ForthcomingGoogle Scholar
  48. Peris JE, Subiza Bn (1999) Condorcet choice correspondences for weak tournaments. Soc Choice Welf 16: 217–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Richardson HS (2003) Democratic autonomy: public reasoning about the ends of policy. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  50. Riker W (1980) Implications from the disequilibrium of majority rule for the study of institutions. Am Polit Sci Rev 74: 432–446CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Riker WH (1986) The art of political manipulation. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  52. Riker WH (1988) Liberalism against populism. Waveland Press, Prospect HeightsGoogle Scholar
  53. Riker WH (1996) The strategy of rhetoric. Yale University Press, New HavenGoogle Scholar
  54. Rubinstein A (1980) Stability of decision systems under majority rule. J Econ Theory 23: 150–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Satterthwaite MA (1975) Strategy-proofness and Arrow’s conditions: existence and correspondence theorems for voting procedures and social welfare functions. J Econ Theory 10: 187–217CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Schwartz T (1990) Cyclic tournaments and cooperative majority voting: a solution. Soc Choice Welf 7(1): 19–29CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Shepsle KA (1979) Institutional arrangements and equilibrium in multidimensional voting models. Am J Polit Sci 23(1): 27–59CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Shepsle KA, Weingast BR (1981) Political preferences for the pork barrel: a generalization. Am J Polit Sci 25(1): 96–111CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Shepsle KA, Weingast BR (1984) Uncovered sets and sophisticated voting outcomes with implications for agenda institutions. Am J Polit Sci 28(1): 49–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Sunstein CR (2001) Designing democracy: what constitutions do. Oxford University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  61. Tullock G (1981) Why so much stability?. Public Choice 37(2): 189–202CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tversky A (1972) Elimination by aspects: a theory of choice. Psychol Rev 79: 281–299CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Tyler TR (2006) Psychological perspectives on legitimacy and legitimation. Annu Rev Psychol 57: 375–400CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. von Neumann J, Morgenstern O (1947) Theory of games and economic behavior, 2nd edn. Princeton University Press, PrincetonGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceWashington University in St. LouisSt. LouisUSA

Personalised recommendations