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The B.E. Journal of Economic Analysis & Policy

Editor-in-Chief: Jürges, Hendrik / Ludwig, Sandra

Ed. by Auriol , Emmanuelle / Brunner, Johann / Fleck, Robert / Friebel, Guido / Mendola, Mariapia / Requate, Till / Tsui, Kevin / Wichardt, Philipp / Zulehner, Christine

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Forming Voting Blocs and Coalitions as a Prisoner's Dilemma: A Possible Theoretical Explanation for Political Instability

Andrew Gelman1

1Department of Statistics, Columbia University,

Citation Information: Contributions in Economic Analysis & Policy. Volume 2, Issue 1, ISSN (Online) 1538-0645, DOI: 10.2202/1538-0645.1185, October 2003

Publication History

Published Online:
2003-10-28

Abstract

Individuals in a committee or election can increase their voting power by forming coalitions. This behavior is shown here to yield a prisoner's dilemma, in which a subset of voters can increase their power, while reducing average voting power for the electorate as a whole. This is an unusual form of the prisoner's dilemma in that cooperation is the selfish act that hurts the larger group. Under a simple model, the privately optimal coalition size is approximately 1.4 times the square root of the number of voters. When voters' preferences are allowed to differ, coalitions form only if voters are approximately politically balanced. We propose a dynamic view of coalitions, in which groups of voters choose of their own free will to form and disband coalitions, in a continuing struggle to maintain their voting power. This is potentially an endogenous mechanism for political instability, even in a world where individuals' (probabilistic) preferences are fixed and known.

Keywords: coalitions; cooperation; decisive vote; elections; legislatures; prisoner’s dilemma; voting power

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