IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

The probability of conflicts in a U.S. presidential type election


  • Marc Feix
  • Dominique Lepelley


  • Vincent Merlin


  • Jean-Louis Rouet



In a two candidate election, it might be that a candidate wins in a majority of districts while he gets less vote than his opponent in the whole country. In Social Choice Theory, this situation is known as the compound majority paradox, or the referendum paradox. Although occurrences of such paradoxical results have been observed worldwide in political elections (e.g. United States, United Kingdom, France), no study evaluates theoretically the likelihood of such situations. In this paper, we propose four probability models in order to tackle this issue, for the case where each district has the same population. For a divided electorate, our results prove that the likelihood of this paradox rapidly tends to 20% when the number of districts increases. This probability decreases with the number of states when a candidate receives significatively more vote than his opponent over the whole country. Copyright Springer-Verlag Berlin/Heidelberg 2004

Suggested Citation

  • Marc Feix & Dominique Lepelley & Vincent Merlin & Jean-Louis Rouet, 2004. "The probability of conflicts in a U.S. presidential type election," Economic Theory, Springer;Society for the Advancement of Economic Theory (SAET), vol. 23(2), pages 227-257, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:spr:joecth:v:23:y:2004:i:2:p:227-257
    DOI: 10.1007/s00199-003-0375-2

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: Access to full text is restricted to subscribers.

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to look for a different version below or search for a different version of it.

    Other versions of this item:


    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Courtin, Sébastien & Laruelle, Annick, 2020. "Multi-dimensional rules," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 103(C), pages 1-7.
    2. Laurent, Thibault & Le Breton, Michel & Lepelley, Dominique & de Mouzon, Olivier, 2017. "Exploring the Effects on the Electoral College of National and Regional Popular Vote Interstate Compact: An Electoral Engineering Perspective," TSE Working Papers 17-861, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE), revised May 2018.
    3. Mostapha Diss & Vincent Merlin, 2010. "On the stability of a triplet of scoring rules," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 69(2), pages 289-316, August.
    4. Olivier Mouzon & Thibault Laurent & Michel Le Breton & Dominique Lepelley, 2020. "The theoretical Shapley–Shubik probability of an election inversion in a toy symmetric version of the US presidential electoral system," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 54(2), pages 363-395, March.
    5. Kazuya Kikuchi & Yukio Koriyama, 2019. "The Winner-Take-All Dilemma," ISER Discussion Paper 1059r, Institute of Social and Economic Research, Osaka University, revised Dec 2019.
    6. Lepelley, Dominique & Merlin, Vincent & Rouet, Jean-Louis, 2011. "Three ways to compute accurately the probability of the referendum paradox," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 62(1), pages 28-33, July.
    7. Merlin, Vincent & Valognes, Fabrice, 2004. "The impact of indifferent voters on the likelihood of some voting paradoxes," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 48(3), pages 343-361, November.
    8. Sebastian Bervoets & Vincent Merlin, 2012. "Gerrymander-proof representative democracies," International Journal of Game Theory, Springer;Game Theory Society, vol. 41(3), pages 473-488, August.
    9. Nicolas Houy, 2006. "La Constitution européenne est 50,13 %-stable. Une note comparative sur la stabilité des Constitutions," Revue économique, Presses de Sciences-Po, vol. 57(1), pages 123-134.
    10. Olivier Mouzon & Thibault Laurent & Michel Breton & Dominique Lepelley, 2019. "Exploring the effects of national and regional popular vote Interstate compact on a toy symmetric version of the Electoral College: an electoral engineering perspective," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 179(1), pages 51-95, April.
    11. Nicholas Miller, 2012. "Why the Electoral College is good for political science (and public choice)," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 150(1), pages 1-25, January.
    12. Kurrild-Klitgaard, Peter, 2011. "Election inversions, coalitions and proportional representation: Examples from Danish elections," MPRA Paper 35302, University Library of Munich, Germany.
    13. Le Breton, Michel & Lepelley, Dominique & Macé, Antonin & Merlin, Vincent, 2017. "Le mécanisme optimal de vote au sein du conseil des représentants d’un système fédéral," L'Actualité Economique, Société Canadienne de Science Economique, vol. 93(1-2), pages 203-248, Mars-Juin.
    14. Le Breton, Michel & Van Der Straeten, Karine, 2014. "Influence Vs. Utility in the Evaluation of Voting Rules: A New Look at the Penrose Formula," TSE Working Papers 14-511, Toulouse School of Economics (TSE).
    15. Kurrild-Klitgaard, Peter, 2018. "Trump, Condorcet and Borda: Voting paradoxes in the 2016 Republican presidential primaries," European Journal of Political Economy, Elsevier, vol. 55(C), pages 29-35.
    16. Nicholas Miller, 2014. "The Alternative Vote and Coombs Rule versus First-Past-the-Post: a social choice analysis of simulated data based on English elections, 1992–2010," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 158(3), pages 399-425, March.
    17. Abraham Diskin & Moshe Koppel, 2010. "Voting power: an information theory approach," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 34(1), pages 105-119, January.
    18. Jac C. Heckelman & Nicholas R. Miller (ed.), 2015. "Handbook of Social Choice and Voting," Books, Edward Elgar Publishing, number 15584, July.
    19. Marek M. Kaminski, 2015. "Empirical examples of voting paradoxes," Chapters, in: Jac C. Heckelman & Nicholas R. Miller (ed.),Handbook of Social Choice and Voting, chapter 20, pages 367-387, Edward Elgar Publishing.
    20. Serguei Kaniovski & Alexander Zaigraev, 2018. "The probability of majority inversion in a two-stage voting system with three states," Theory and Decision, Springer, vol. 84(4), pages 525-546, June.
    21. Rafael Treibich & Martin Van der linden, 2017. "Trump trumps Bush," Vanderbilt University Department of Economics Working Papers 17-00014, Vanderbilt University Department of Economics.
    22. Wilson, Mark C. & Pritchard, Geoffrey, 2007. "Probability calculations under the IAC hypothesis," Mathematical Social Sciences, Elsevier, vol. 54(3), pages 244-256, December.


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:spr:joecth:v:23:y:2004:i:2:p:227-257. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Sonal Shukla) or (Springer Nature Abstracting and Indexing). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.