Arrow’s decisive coalitions

  • Wesley H. HollidayEmail author
  • Eric Pacuit
Original Paper


In his classic monograph, Social Choice and Individual Values, Arrow introduced the notion of a decisive coalition of voters as part of his mathematical framework for social choice theory. The subsequent literature on Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem has shown the importance for social choice theory of reasoning about coalitions of voters with different grades of decisiveness. The goal of this paper is a fine-grained analysis of reasoning about decisive coalitions, formalizing how the concept of a decisive coalition gives rise to a social choice theoretic language and logic all of its own. We show that given Arrow’s axioms of the Independence of Irrelevant Alternatives and Universal Domain, rationality postulates for social preference correspond to strong axioms about decisive coalitions. We demonstrate this correspondence with results of a kind familiar in economics—representation theorems—as well as results of a kind coming from mathematical logic—completeness theorems. We present a complete logic for reasoning about decisive coalitions, along with formal proofs of Arrow’s and Wilson’s theorems. In addition, we prove the correctness of an algorithm for calculating, given any social rationality postulate of a certain form in the language of binary preference, the corresponding axiom in the language of decisive coalitions. These results suggest for social choice theory new perspectives and tools from logic.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of CaliforniaBerkeleyUSA
  2. 2.University of MarylandCollege ParkUSA

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