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The median voter model in public choice theory

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  • Randall Holcombe

Abstract

The changing perception by public choice theorists about the relevance of the median voter model is a result of excessive extrapolation of the conclusions of theoretical models to the real world. Early in the 1970s the median voter model was often accepted as implying that the output produced in the public sector was what was most preferred by the median voter. This claim is excessive because the median voter model is only a model of demand aggregation under majority rule and has little to say about the supply side of the public sector. In the late 1970s many scholars identified several circumstances under which the model would not apply in theory, but these critiques of the model were often viewed as reasons to abandon the median voter model altogether. The model went from having excessive claims that made the model appear to be more powerful than it really is to excessive claims that made the model appear to be less powerful than it really is. These latter claims were often in response to the earlier claims rather than to the model, appropriately applied. Pointing out that the model might not be valid under some circumstances in no way implies that the model is never valid. In fact, this paper has reviewed strong arguments, both empirical and theoretical, suggesting that the median voter model is a good approximation of demand aggregation in the public sector for many issues. One paper will not change the opinions of public choice theorists on the median voter model. But the argument given here is that there is a large amount of theoretical and empirical evidence supporting the median voter model as a good foundation for the development of the theory of public sector demand. Once the overly ambitious claims that have been made for the model are set aside, the median voter model is in a good position to provide a base for the development of a theory of political structure that is analogous to the theory of market structure in economics. Copyright Kluwer Academic Publishers 1989

Suggested Citation

  • Randall Holcombe, 1989. "The median voter model in public choice theory," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 61(2), pages 115-125, May.
  • Handle: RePEc:kap:pubcho:v:61:y:1989:i:2:p:115-125 DOI: 10.1007/BF00115658
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    References listed on IDEAS

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    Cited by:

    1. Kevin Hsu & Yang, 2008. "Political Economy And The Social Marginal Cost Of Public Funds: The Case Of The Meltzer-Richard Economy," Economic Inquiry, Western Economic Association International, vol. 46(3), pages 401-410, July.
    2. Salmai Qari & Kai Konrad & Benny Geys, 2012. "Patriotism, taxation and international mobility," Public Choice, Springer, pages 695-717.
    3. José Manuel Cruz, 2004. "Empirical analysis of the influence of voters and politicians in the public choice of Portuguese municipalities universidade portucalense," ERSA conference papers ersa04p367, European Regional Science Association.
    4. Rhee, Se-Koo, 1996. "The impact of intergovernmental grants-in-aid on public school expenditure under the segregated school system," ISU General Staff Papers 1996010108000012396, Iowa State University, Department of Economics.
    5. Karl Widerquist, 2000. "The Public Commodities Problem," Macroeconomics 0004046, EconWPA.
    6. Fischel, William A., 1995. "The offer/ask disparity and just compensation for takings: A constitutional choice perspective," International Review of Law and Economics, Elsevier, vol. 15(2), pages 187-203, June.
    7. Albanese, Giuseppe & Modica, Salvatore, 2010. "Co-movement of public spending in the G7," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 109(2), pages 121-123, November.
    8. Makowsky, Michael D., 2011. "Religion, clubs, and emergent social divides," Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, Elsevier, vol. 80(1), pages 74-87.
    9. Randall Holcombe, 2005. "Government growth in the twenty-first century," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 124(1), pages 95-114, July.
    10. Turnbull, Geoffrey K., 1995. "Biased tax price or grant expenditure elasticities," Economics Letters, Elsevier, vol. 49(2), pages 187-192, August.
    11. Eric J. Brunner & Stephen L. Ross, 2007. "How Decisive Is the Decisive Voter?," Working papers 2007-28, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics, revised Aug 2008.
    12. Guy Gilbert & Alain Guengant & Benoît Le Maux & Yvon Rocaboy, 2012. "Une étude économétrique de la dépense publique locale: Le cas des départements français," Economics Working Paper Archive (University of Rennes 1 & University of Caen) 201203, Center for Research in Economics and Management (CREM), University of Rennes 1, University of Caen and CNRS.
    13. Marc Baudry & Matthieu Leprince & Cyriaque Moreau, 2002. "Préférences révélées, bien public local et électeur médian : tests sur données françaises," Économie et Prévision, Programme National Persée, pages 125-146.
    14. Ramón José Torregrosa Montaner, 2017. "Public good provision and social loss under polarization," Working Papers. Serie AD 2017-03, Instituto Valenciano de Investigaciones Económicas, S.A. (Ivie).
    15. Eric J. Brunner & Stephen L. Ross, 2009. "Is the Median Voter Decisive? Evidence of 'Ends Against the Middle' From Referenda Voting Patterns," Working papers 2009-02, University of Connecticut, Department of Economics, revised May 2010.
    16. Brunner, Eric J. & Ross, Stephen L., 2010. "Is the median voter decisive? Evidence from referenda voting patterns," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(11-12), pages 898-910, December.
    17. Maria da Conceição Sampaio e Sousa, 2011. "Locally Provided Public Schooling in Brazilian Municipalities," Economia, ANPEC - Associação Nacional dos Centros de Pósgraduação em Economia [Brazilian Association of Graduate Programs in Economics], vol. 12(3), pages 427-444.
    18. repec:eur:ejmsjr:268 is not listed on IDEAS
    19. Benoît Le Maux, 2009. "Governmental behavior in representative democracy: a synthesis of the theoretical literature," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 141(3), pages 447-465, December.
    20. Turnbull, Geoffrey K., 1998. "The Overspending and Flypaper Effects of Fiscal Illusion: Theory and Empirical Evidence," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 44(1), pages 1-26, July.
    21. John Bradbury & W. Crain, 2005. "Legislative district configurations and fiscal policy in American States," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 125(3), pages 385-407, December.
    22. Benoît Le Maux, 2009. "Governmental behavior in representative democracy: a synthesis of the theoretical literature," Post-Print halshs-00418370, HAL.
    23. Cruz, Jose Manuel, 2002. "Who is fitting better to Portuguese local demand for public choice: Central government or municipal governments?," ERSA conference papers ersa02p440, European Regional Science Association.
    24. José Cruz, 2001. "An empirical application of the median voter model and of the interest group influence model to the Portuguese and Galician municipalities," ERSA conference papers ersa01p25, European Regional Science Association.
    25. Randall Holcombe & Lawrence Kenny, 2007. "Evidence on voter preferences from unrestricted choice referendums," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 131(1), pages 197-215, April.

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