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Sequential or Simultaneous Elections? A Welfare Analysis

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  • Patrick Hummel
  • Brian Knight

Abstract

This paper addresses a key question on the design of electoral systems. Should all voters vote on the same day or should elections be staggered, with late voters observing early returns before making their decisions? Using a model of voting and social learning, we illustrate that sequential elections place too much weight on the preferences and information of early states but also provide late voters with valuable information. Under simultaneous elections, voters equally weigh the available information but place too much weight on their priors, providing an inappropriate advantage to front-runners. Given these trade-offs, simultaneous elections are welfare-preferred if the front-runner initially has a small advantage, but sequential elections are welfare-preferred if the front-runner initially has a large advantage. We then quantitatively evaluate this trade-off using data based on the 2004 presidential primary. The results suggest that simultaneous systems outperform sequential systems although the difference in welfare is relatively small.

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Bibliographic Info

Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 18076.

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Date of creation: May 2012
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Publication status: published as “Sequential or Simultaneous Elections? An Empirical Welfare Analysis” (with Patrick Hummell), NBER working paper 18076, 2012, forthcoming at the International Economic Review.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:18076

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Cited by:
  1. Hummel, Patrick & Holden, Richard, 2014. "Optimal primaries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 64-75.

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