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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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  1. Prat, A., 1997. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," Discussion Paper, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research 1997-118, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  2. Stephen Coate & Brian Knight, 2007. "Socially Optimal Districting: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, MIT Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1409-1471, November.
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  14. Hummel, Patrick & Holden, Richard, 2014. "Optimal primaries," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 109(C), pages 64-75.
  15. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 2010. "A theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom and cultural change as informational Cascades," Levine's Working Paper Archive 1193, David K. Levine.
  16. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
  17. Patrick Hummel, 2011. "Sequential Voting When Long Elections Are Costly," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 23(1), pages 36-58, 03.
  18. Steger, Wayne P., 2008. "Forecasting the presidential primary vote: Viability, ideology and momentum," International Journal of Forecasting, Elsevier, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 193-208.
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Cited by:
  1. Patrick Hummel & Richard Holden, 2013. "Optimal Primaries," NBER Working Papers 19340, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.

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