Backward Induction in the Wild? Evidence from Sequential Voting in the U.S. Senate
52 Pages Posted: 24 Sep 2014 Last revised: 24 Apr 2017
Date Written: March 2017
In the U.S. Senate, roll calls are held in alphabetical order. We document that senators early in the order are less likely to vote with the majority of their own party than those whose last name places them at the end of the alphabet. To speak to the mechanism behind this result, we develop a simple model of sequential voting, in which forward-looking senators rely on backward induction in order to free ride on their colleagues. Estimating our model structurally, we find that this form of strategic behavior is an important part of equilibrium play. At the same time, there appears to be a great amount of heterogeneity in senators' use of backward reasoning. We also consider, but ultimately dismiss, alternative explanations related to learning about common values and vote buying.
Keywords: backward induction, partisanship, position taking, voting, U.S. Senate
JEL Classification: D0, D01, D03, D76
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation