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Published August 1, 2017 | Submitted
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The Swing Voter's Curse in the Laboratory


This paper reports the first laboratory study of the swing voter's curse and provides insights on the larger theoretical and empirical literature on "pivotal voter" models. Our experiment controls for different information levels of voters, as well as the size of the electorate, the distribution of preferences, and other theoretically relevant parameters. The design varies the share of partisan voters and the prior belief about a payoff relevant state of the world. Our results support the equilibrium predictions of the Feddersen-Pesendorfer model, and clearly reject the notion that voters in the laboratory use naive decision-theoretic strategies. The voters act as if they are aware of the swing voter's curse and adjust their behavior to compensate. While the compensation is not complete and there is some heterogeneity in individual behavior, we find that aggregate outcomes, such as efficiency, turnout, and margin of victory, closely track the theoretical predictions.

Additional Information

This research was supported by the Princeton Laboratory for Experimental Social Science (PLESS). The financial support of the National Science Foundation is gratefully acknowledged by Battaglini (SES-0418150) and Palfrey (SBR-0098400 and SES-0079301). We thank Stephen Coate, participants at the 2006 Wallis Political Economy Conference, and especially Massimo Morelli for comments. Karen Kaiser, Kyle Mattes, and Stephanie Wang provided valuable research assistance.

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