Information and election closeness

Some people may like more–rather than less–competitive elections for their own sake.  But we I don’t know why. There is some evidence that rational voting behavior MAY turn what seemed to be a lopsided election into a very competitive race–this, because voters who prefer the most popular candidate face a relatively strong free-rider problem, which MAY make them turn out in smaller numbers than advocates of the underdog whose turnout MAY be higher. Obviously, this result depends on the process of information-gathering and expectation-formation of the electorate.
 
This paper generalizes somewhat that intuition with the striking conclusion that elections with “more informed voters” may yield into “inefficently competitive” races with high turnout, whereas elections with “symmetrically ignorant” voters are “less competitive but more efficent”.  (Warning, here efficiency means that the most preferred candidate justly wins with the largest majority; and an inefficent result means that the most preferred candidate wins with a narrow margin, or even worse, that the least preferred candidate wins by chance.)
 
Curtis Taylor and Huseyin Yildirim
 

Abstract: We present a theory of strategic voting that predicts elections are more likely to be close and voter turnout is more likely to be high when citizens possess better public information about the composition of the electorate. These findings are disturbing because they suggest that providing more information to potential voters about aggregate political preferences (e.g., through polls, political stock markets, or expert forecasts) may actually undermine the democratic process.
 
We show that if the distribution of preferences is common knowledge, then strategic voting leads to a stark neutrality result in which the probability that either alternative wins the election is 1/2. This occurs because membersof the minority compensate exactly for their smaller group size by voting with higher frequency. By contrast, when citizens are symmetrically ignorant about the distribution of types, the majority is more likely to win t he election and expected voter turnout is lower. Indeed, when the population is large and voting costs are small, the majority wins with probability arbitrarily close to one in equilibrium. Welfare is, therefore, unambiguously higher when citizens possess less information about the distribution of political preferences

 
 
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