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Representative democracy as social choice

In: Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare


  • Schofield, Norman


Social Choice traditionally employs the preferences of voters or agents as primitives. However, in most situations of constitutional decision-making the beliefs of the members of the electorate determine their secondary preferences or choices. Key choices in US political history, such as the ratification of the Constitution in 1787 and the election of Lincoln in 1860, were conditioned by changing beliefs as regards the truth of propositions about the political universe. Preference-based models of election tend to conclude that candidates, or parties, converge to a vote-maximizing policy position at the "electoral center". Empirical work suggests that such a conclusion is invalid. This chapter argues, on the contrary, that parties or candidates adopt positions that optimize, in a Nash equilibrium sense, with respect to both their beliefs over electoral response, and their beliefs over appropriate policy choices. The analysis indicates that political choices will be different depending on whether plurality ("first past the post") or proportionality is used as the method of electoral representation.

Suggested Citation

  • Schofield, Norman, 2002. "Representative democracy as social choice," Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare, in: K. J. Arrow & A. K. Sen & K. Suzumura (ed.), Handbook of Social Choice and Welfare, edition 1, volume 1, chapter 9, pages 425-455, Elsevier.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:socchp:1-09

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    Cited by:

    1. Roland Kirstein, "undated". "The Condorcet Jury-Theorem with Two Independent Error-Probabilities," German Working Papers in Law and Economics 2006-1-1154, Berkeley Electronic Press.
    2. Pierre-Guillaume Méon, 2006. "Majority voting with stochastic preferences: The whims of a committee are smaller than the whims of its members," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 17(3), pages 207-216, September.
    3. Dimitrios Xefteris, 2011. "The political economy of constitutional restraints," Constitutional Political Economy, Springer, vol. 22(3), pages 221-237, September.
    4. Norman Schofield & Christopher Claassen & Ugur Ozdemir & Alexei Zakharov, 2011. "Estimating the effects of activists in two-party and multi-party systems: comparing the United States and Israel," Social Choice and Welfare, Springer;The Society for Social Choice and Welfare, vol. 36(3), pages 483-518, April.

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    JEL classification:

    • I0 - Health, Education, and Welfare - - General


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