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Published August 2, 2017 | Submitted
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Information Aggregation and Strategic Abstention in Large Laboratory Elections


This paper compares strategic abstention in ad hoc committees versus standing committees. Ad hoc committees meet only once and then dissolve, while standing committees. The central finding from this study is that most of the predictions of swing voter curse theory hold up in large elections conducted under controlled laboratory conditions. There is significant abstention, and significant balancing of partisans by uniformed voters; and vote balancing increases with the partisan imbalance. Elections with no partisan imbalance successfully aggregate information and lead to efficient outcomes. Consistent with swing voter curse theory, this efficiency falls off as partisan imbalance increases, but to a significantly greater extent than is predicted in equilibrium. It is instructive to compare these findings in large elections with results from the elections reported in Battaglini et al. (2007). All of the qualitative results are the same, concerning the comparative statics, balancing, and abstention. One slight difference is that there was less (irrational) voting for α in the small elections than in the large elections, except for the π = 5/9 m = 0 treatment, where we observed 20% voting for α in the small elections, compared with 10% voting for α in the large elections. These differences were reflected in slightly different efficiency results between small and large elections, with the comparisons mirroring the differences in voting for α: more (irrational) α voting results in lower efficiency. We conclude that this scaled-up study successfully replicates the initial swing voter's curse experiment reported in Battaglini et al. (2007), obtaining very similar findings in laboratory committees that are three times the size of those in the original study. The one caveat is that we found evidence of a slight increase in irrational nonequilibrium behavior (voting for α) in the larger elections. Whether this trend would continue as election size is further scaled up is an open question a swing voter's curse environment.

Additional Information

This is a corrected version that was published in The American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings, 2008, 98(2):194-200. We acknowledge financial support from the National Science Foundation (SES-0418150 and SES-0450712), the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, PLESS at Princeton, CESS at NYU, and SSEL at Caltech. We also thank Stephen Coate, participants at the 2006 Wallis Political Economy Conference, the 2007 meetings of the Public Choice Society and especially Massimo Morelli for comments. Rajeev Advani, Anna Bassi, Karen Kaiser, Kristin Michelitch, Uliana Popova, Anwar Ruff, and Stephanie Wang provided valuable research assistance. This working paper incorporates corrections to Table 2 of the version published in American Economic Review: Papers and Proceedings. 2008. 98(2):194-200. We thank Howard Margolis for pointing out errors in the published table, and a published corrigendum is also available on line at the AER website.

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