Sequential or Simultaneous Elections? A Welfare Analysis

39 Pages Posted: 12 May 2012

See all articles by Patrick Hummel

Patrick Hummel

Google Inc.

Brian G. Knight

Brown University - Department of Economics; National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

Multiple version iconThere are 2 versions of this paper

Date Written: May 2012

Abstract

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.

Suggested Citation

Hummel, Patrick and Knight, Brian G., Sequential or Simultaneous Elections? A Welfare Analysis (May 2012). NBER Working Paper No. w18076. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2056704

Patrick Hummel (Contact Author)

Google Inc. ( email )

1600 Amphitheatre Parkway
Second Floor
Mountain View, CA 94043
United States

Brian G. Knight

Brown University - Department of Economics ( email )

64 Waterman Street
Providence, RI 02912
United States

National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER)

1050 Massachusetts Avenue
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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