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Backward Induction in the Wild? Evidence from Sequential Voting in the US Senate


  • Jörg L. Spenkuch
  • B. Pablo Montagnes
  • Daniel B. Magleby


In the US Senate, roll calls are held in alphabetical order. We document that senators early in the order are less likely to vote with the majority of their own party than those whose last name places them at the end of the alphabet. To speak to the mechanism behind this result, we develop a simple model of sequential voting, in which forward-looking senators rely on backward induction in order to free ride on their colleagues. Estimating our model structurally, we find that this form of strategic behavior is an important part of equilibrium play. We also consider, but ultimately dismiss, alternative explanations related to learning about common values and vote buying.

Suggested Citation

  • Jörg L. Spenkuch & B. Pablo Montagnes & Daniel B. Magleby, 2018. "Backward Induction in the Wild? Evidence from Sequential Voting in the US Senate," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 108(7), pages 1971-2013, July.
  • Handle: RePEc:aea:aecrev:v:108:y:2018:i:7:p:1971-2013
    Note: DOI: 10.1257/aer.20150993

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Eddie Dekel & Matthew O. Jackson & Asher Wolinsky, 2008. "Vote Buying: General Elections," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 116(2), pages 351-380, April.
    2. Thomas Romer & Howard Rosenthal, 1978. "Political resource allocation, controlled agendas, and the status quo," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 33(4), pages 27-43, December.
    3. Clinton, Joshua & Jackman, Simon & Rivers, Douglas, 2004. "The Statistical Analysis of Roll Call Data," American Political Science Review, Cambridge University Press, vol. 98(2), pages 355-370, May.
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    Cited by:

    1. Rune Midjord & Tomás Rodríguez Barraquer & Justin Mattias Valasek, 2019. "Robust Information Aggregation Through Voting," CESifo Working Paper Series 7713, CESifo.
    2. Isaiah Andrews & Matthew Gentzkow & Jesse M. Shapiro, 2020. "On the Informativeness of Descriptive Statistics for Structural Estimates," Econometrica, Econometric Society, vol. 88(6), pages 2231-2258, November.
    3. Matter, Ulrich & Roberti, Paolo & Slotwinski, Michaela, 2019. "Vote buying in the US Congress," ZEW Discussion Papers 19-052, ZEW - Leibniz Centre for European Economic Research.
    4. Ferrali, Romain, 2020. "Partners in crime? Corruption as a criminal network," Games and Economic Behavior, Elsevier, vol. 124(C), pages 319-353.
    5. Louis-Sidois, Charles & Musolff, Leon Andreas, 0. "Buying voters with uncertain instrumental preferences," Theoretical Economics, Econometric Society.
    6. Clark, Tom S. & Montagnes, B. Pablo & Spenkuch, Jörg L., 2022. "Politics from the Bench? Ideology and Strategic Voting in the U.S. Supreme Court," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 214(C).
    7. Friedel Bolle & Philipp E. Otto, 2022. "Voting behavior under outside pressure: promoting true majorities with sequential voting?," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 58(4), pages 711-740, May.
    8. Yuval Salant & Jörg L. Spenkuch, 2021. "Complexity and Choice," CESifo Working Paper Series 9239, CESifo.
    9. Van Parys, Jessica & Ash, Elliott, 2018. "Sequential decision-making with group identity," Journal of Economic Psychology, Elsevier, vol. 69(C), pages 1-18.
    10. Ginzburg, Boris & Guerra, José-Alberto, 2019. "When collective ignorance is bliss: Theory and experiment on voting for learning," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 169(C), pages 52-64.
    11. Chen, Ying & Zápal, Jan, 2022. "Sequential vote buying," Journal of Economic Theory, Elsevier, vol. 205(C).
    12. Spenkuch, Jörg L., 2018. "Expressive vs. strategic voters: An empirical assessment," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 165(C), pages 73-81.

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    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • D72 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making - - - Political Processes: Rent-seeking, Lobbying, Elections, Legislatures, and Voting Behavior
    • D82 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Asymmetric and Private Information; Mechanism Design
    • D83 - Microeconomics - - Information, Knowledge, and Uncertainty - - - Search; Learning; Information and Knowledge; Communication; Belief; Unawareness


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