Political Behavior

, Volume 40, Issue 4, pp 809–829 | Cite as

Do Individuals Value Distributional Fairness? How Inequality Affects Majority Decisions

  • Jan Sauermann
Original Paper


The so-called chaos theorems imply that, under most preference configurations, majority voting in n-dimensional policy spaces is theoretically unrestricted. Empirical research, however, shows an apparent stability of democratic decisions. Recent theoretical developments have emphasized social preferences as a possible explanation for overcoming majority rule’s instability problem. Hence, it is assumed that individuals not only maximize their own well-being, but also value distributional fairness. However, there is little experimental research into the influence of social preferences on majority decisions. This article presents findings from laboratory experiments on majority decisions in two-dimensional policy spaces with a systematic variation of the fairness properties of the incentive structures. The results show that distributional fairness is an important motivational factor in democratic decisions.


Committee decision making Fairness Laboratory experiment Majority rule Social choice Social preferences 



This work has received generous funding from the Fritz Thyssen Foundation (Az. Financial support from the German Research Foundation (DFG) for the Cologne Laboratory for Economic Research is also gratefully acknowledged. I would like to thank Holger Reinermann for his excellent research assistance. André Kaiser, Bernhard Kittel, the participants in the Preference Formation and Formal Models in Politics Panel at the ECPR General Conference 2014 in Glasgow and the participants of the first Gothenburg–Barcelona experimental workshop 2015 in Gothenburg and three anonymous reviewers provided valuable comments on the manuscript.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Ethical Approval

All procedures performed in this study involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the University of Cologne and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 369 kb)
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Supplementary material 2(DOCX 25 kb)
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Supplementary material 3 (DOCX 534 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (DOCX 18 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Cologne Center for Comparative PoliticsUniversity of CologneCologneGermany

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