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Congressional Vote Options


  • David C. King
  • Richard J. Zeckhauser


Among political practitioners, there is conventional wisdom about the outcomes of critical and salient legislative votes. 'This vote,' we hear, ' will either win by a little or lose by a lot.' Real-world examples suggest coalition leaders purchase 'hip-pocket' votes and "if you need me" pledges, which are converted to favorable votes when they will yield a victory. When the outcome is uncertain, such a process -- securing commitments in advance and calling them in if necessary -- is advantageous relative to traditional vote buying. Excess votes are not bought, nor are votes purchased for a losing effort. In effect, the leader secures options on votes. Given uncertainty, buying vote options yields two outcomes in conceivably winnable situations, one a narrow victory, the other a substantial loss. Such a distribution of outcomes is not explicable in a traditional vote-buying framework. We look for evidence of this pattern -- the tracings of 'if you need me pledges' -- by examining all Congressional Quarterly key votes from 1975 through 1998. On these critical and salient votes, narrow victories are much more frequent than narrow losses. Furthermore, when leaders lose key votes, as predicted, they lose by bigger margins than when they win. Finally, we discuss leadership strategies for keeping 'narrow wins' from unraveling into 'big losses.'

Suggested Citation

  • David C. King & Richard J. Zeckhauser, 1999. "Congressional Vote Options," NBER Working Papers 7342, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  • Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:7342
    Note: PE

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    Cited by:

    1. Oliver Hart & John Moore, 2005. "On the Design of Hierarchies: Coordination versus Specialization," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 113(4), pages 675-702, August.
    2. Jones Charles I., 2001. "Was an Industrial Revolution Inevitable? Economic Growth Over the Very Long Run," The B.E. Journal of Macroeconomics, De Gruyter, vol. 1(2), pages 1-45, August.
    3. Joshua Aizenman & Nancy P. Marion, 1999. "Uncertainty and the disappearance of international credit," Proceedings, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, issue Sep.
    4. B. Douglas Bernheim & Lorenzo Forni & Jagadeesh Gokhale & Laurence J. Kotlikoff, 1999. "The adequacy of life insurance: evidence from the health and retirement survey," Working Paper 9914, Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

    More about this item

    JEL classification:

    • C7 - Mathematical and Quantitative Methods - - Game Theory and Bargaining Theory
    • D7 - Microeconomics - - Analysis of Collective Decision-Making


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