Moral Bias in Large Elections: Theory and Experimental Evidence

47 Pages Posted: 14 May 2009

See all articles by Timothy J. Feddersen

Timothy J. Feddersen

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management

Sean Gailmard

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science

Alvaro Sandroni

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Economics; Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management

Date Written: April 2009

Abstract

We argue that large elections may exhibit a moral bias, i.e., conditional on the distribution of preferences within the electorate, alternatives understood by voters to be morally superior are more likely to win in large elections than in small ones. This bias can result from ethical expressive preferences which include a payoff voters obtain from taking an action they believe to be ethical. In large elections pivot probability is small, so expressive preferences become more important relative to material self-interest. Ethical expressive preferences can have a disproportionate impact on results in large elections for two reasons. First, as pivot probability declines ethical expressive motivations make agents more likely to vote on the basis of ethical considerations than on the basis of narrow self-interest. Second, as pivot probability declines the set of agents who choose to vote increasingly consist of agents with large ethical expressive payoff s. We provide experimental evidence that is consistent with the hypothesis of moral bias.

Suggested Citation

Feddersen, Timothy James and Gailmard, Sean and Sandroni, Alvaro, Moral Bias in Large Elections: Theory and Experimental Evidence (April 2009). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=1402963 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1402963

Timothy James Feddersen

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Department of Managerial Economics
Evanston, IL 60208
United States

Sean Gailmard (Contact Author)

University of California, Berkeley - Charles and Louise Travers Department of Political Science ( email )

210 Barrows Hall
Berkeley, CA 94720
United States
510-642-4678 (Phone)

Alvaro Sandroni

University of Pennsylvania - Department of Economics ( email )

Ronald O. Perelman Center for Political Science
133 South 36th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6297
United States

Northwestern University - Kellogg School of Management ( email )

2001 Sheridan Road
Evanston, IL 60208
United States
847-491-5461 (Phone)
847-467-1220 (Fax)

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