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Sequential or Simultaneous Elections? A Welfare Analysis

  • Patrick Hummel
  • Brian Knight

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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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
Note: PE POL
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  1. Brian Knight & Nathan Schiff, 2010. "Momentum and Social Learning in Presidential Primaries," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 118(6), pages 1110 - 1150.
  2. Prat, A., 1997. "Campaign Advertising and Voter Welfare," Discussion Paper 1997-118, Tilburg University, Center for Economic Research.
  3. Eric Maskin, 2003. "The Politician and the Judge: Accountability in Government," Theory workshop papers 505798000000000076, UCLA Department of Economics.
  4. Sushil Bikhchandani & David Hirshleifer & Ivo Welch, 1998. "Learning from the Behavior of Others: Conformity, Fads, and Informational Cascades," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 12(3), pages 151-170, Summer.
  5. Alessandro Lizzeri & Nicola Persico, . ""The Provision of Public Goods Under Alternative Electoral Incentives''," CARESS Working Papres 98-08, University of Pennsylvania Center for Analytic Research and Economics in the Social Sciences.
  6. Persson, Torsten & Roland , Gérard & Tabellini, Guido, 1997. "Comparative Politics and Public Finance," Seminar Papers 633, Stockholm University, Institute for International Economic Studies.
  7. Dekel, E. & Piccione, M., 1999. "Sequential Voting Procedures in Symmetric Binary Elections," Papers 3-99, Tel Aviv.
  8. Stephen Coate & Brian Knight, 2007. "Socially Optimal Districting: A Theoretical and Empirical Exploration," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 122(4), pages 1409-1471, November.
  9. Patrick Hummel & Richard Holden, 2013. "Optimal Primaries," NBER Working Papers 19340, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  10. Battaglini, Marco, 2004. "Sequential Voting with Abstention," Papers 05-19-2004, Princeton University, Research Program in Political Economy.
  11. Klumpp, Tilman & Polborn, Mattias K., 2006. "Primaries and the New Hampshire Effect," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 90(6-7), pages 1073-1114, August.
  12. S. Ali & Navin Kartik, 2012. "Herding with collective preferences," Economic Theory, Springer, vol. 51(3), pages 601-626, November.
  13. Bikhchandani, Sushil & Hirshleifer, David & Welch, Ivo, 1992. "A Theory of Fads, Fashion, Custom, and Cultural Change in Informational Cascades," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(5), pages 992-1026, October.
  14. Torsten Persson & Guido Tabellini, 2004. "Constitutions and Economic Policy," Journal of Economic Perspectives, American Economic Association, vol. 18(1), pages 75-98, Winter.
  15. Patrick Hummel, 2011. "Sequential Voting When Long Elections Are Costly," Economics and Politics, Wiley Blackwell, vol. 23(1), pages 36-58, 03.
  16. Deniz Selman, 2011. "Optimal Sequencing of Presidential Primaries," Working Papers 2011/09, Bogazici University, Department of Economics.
  17. Stephen Coate, 2004. "Pareto-Improving Campaign Finance Policy," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 94(3), pages 628-655, June.
  18. Strumpf, Koleman S, 2002. " Strategic Competition in Sequential Election Contests," Public Choice, Springer, vol. 111(3-4), pages 377-97, June.
  19. Dekel, E. & Piccione, M., 1998. "On the equivalence of simulteneous and sequential binary elections," Discussion Paper Series In Economics And Econometrics 9801, Economics Division, School of Social Sciences, University of Southampton.
  20. Steger, Wayne P., 2008. "Forecasting the presidential primary vote: Viability, ideology and momentum," International Journal of Forecasting, Elsevier, vol. 24(2), pages 193-208.
  21. Banerjee, Abhijit V, 1992. "A Simple Model of Herd Behavior," The Quarterly Journal of Economics, MIT Press, vol. 107(3), pages 797-817, August.
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