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Sophisticated approval voting, ignorance priors, and plurality heuristics: a behavioral social choice analysis in a Thurstonian framework

Author: Regenwetter, Michel ; Ho, Moon-Ho R. ; Tsetlin, IliaINSEAD Area: Decision SciencesIn: Psychological Review, vol. 114, no. 4, October 2007 Language: EnglishDescription: p. 994-1014.Type of document: INSEAD ArticleNote: Please ask us for this itemAbstract: This project reconciles historically distinct paradigms at the interface between individual and social choice, as well as rational and behavioural decision theory. We combine a utility-maximizing prescriptive rule for “sophisticated approval voting” with the “ignorance prior” heuristic from behavioural decision research, and two types of “plurality heuristics” to model approval voting behaviour. When using a “sincere plurality heuristic”, voters simplify their decision process by voting for their single favourite candidate. When using a “strategic plurality heuristic”, voters strategically focus their attention on the two front-runners and vote for their preferred candidate between these two. Using a hierarchy of Thurstonian random utility models, we implement these different decision rules and test them statistically on seven real-world approval voting elections. We cross-validate our key findings via a psychological internet experiment. Although substantially many voters used the plurality heuristic in the real elections, they did so sincerely, not strategically. Moreover, even though Thurstonian models do not force such agreement, we find, in contrast to common wisdom about social choice rules, that the sincere social orders by Condorcet, Borda, Plurality, and Approval Voting are identical in all seven elections and in the internet experiment.
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This project reconciles historically distinct paradigms at the interface between individual and social choice, as well as rational and behavioural decision theory. We combine a utility-maximizing prescriptive rule for “sophisticated approval voting” with the “ignorance prior” heuristic from behavioural decision research, and two types of “plurality heuristics” to model approval voting behaviour. When using a “sincere plurality heuristic”, voters simplify their decision process by voting for their single favourite candidate. When using a “strategic plurality heuristic”, voters strategically focus their attention on the two front-runners and vote for their preferred candidate between these two. Using a hierarchy of Thurstonian random utility models, we implement these different decision rules and test them statistically on seven real-world approval voting elections. We cross-validate our key findings via a psychological internet experiment. Although substantially many voters used the plurality heuristic in the real elections, they did so sincerely, not strategically. Moreover, even though Thurstonian models do not force such agreement, we find, in contrast to common wisdom about social choice rules, that the sincere social orders by Condorcet, Borda, Plurality, and Approval Voting are identical in all seven elections and in the internet experiment.

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