Paradox of Voting

Tanya Downing, Cuesta College,
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Summary

This exercise introduces students to the concept of public choice theory and issues of majority voting. Individuals and teams rank five different choices regarding government spending and taxation, then vote on choices as a class to determine whether consistent class preferences exist.

Learning Goals

Students will be able to critically evaluate potential complications of majority voting by experiencing issues such as inefficient voting outcomes, special interest groups, the paradox of voting and/or political logrolling.

Context for Use

This activity is appropriate for principles of economics courses and may be used to introduce the idea of issues around majority voting or to emphasize points after reading and discussing public choice theory.

Overview

This exercise introduces students to the concept of public choice theory and issues of majority voting. Individuals and teams rank and report on five different choices regarding government spending and taxation. The class then votes on team selections via paired-choice voting. Students will be able to critically evaluate potential complications of voting by experiencing issues of majority voting such as inefficient voting outcomes, special interest groups, the paradox of voting and/or political logrolling.

By the end of the exercise, students will be able to reflect upon and discuss their answers to the following questions:

  • How satisfied are you with the results of the end rankings of this exercise? Did they closely resemble your individual choices or that of your team?
  • How were choices made by your team?
  • Did your team experience inefficient voting outcomes (strength of preference is not shown in a single vote) or efficient voting outcomes? Did political logrolling occur? Did any students band together and form a special interest group?
  • Were any other issues of democratic process and public choice theory experienced by your team?
  • As a class, were there clear preferences in voting results or were there no consistent preferences through paired-choice voting? Were the class voting results an example of the paradox of voting?
  • Any other thoughts you'd like to share with the class?

Expected Student Learning Outcomes

Students will be able to critically evaluate potential complications of majority voting by experiencing a scenario of ranking preferences then participating in paired-choice majority voting.

Information Given to Students

This activity has five steps and takes approximately 75 minutes of time. Prior to beginning the steps the class will be broken into teams of five students each and identified as Team 1, Team 2, Team 3, etc. and given the Student Handout titled: Public Choice Theory.

Step One: Review the below list of proposals currently in consideration for funding by the federal government. Then, rank them according to your personal preferences from choice #1 through choice #5 in the handout provided. (5 minutes)

A. Increase funding for national and state parks so that entrance fees are no longer required.

B. Increase funding for local and state governments for the purposes of eliminating metered parking fees.

C. Legalizing marijuana at the federal level and applying a tax on marijuana products at the state level.

D. Increase funding for cancer research and treatment.

E. Increase funding for opioid drug education and opioid addiction rehabilitation centers.

Step Two: Share your rankings with your team. Each team member's rankings should be recorded (handout provided.) Then, negotiate and decide upon a team ranking of the team's first (#1) and second (#2) ranked item. Teams should take brief notes on how the first and second ranked item was decided. (20 minutes)

Step Three: Teams should briefly report their first and second ranked items to the class.

Step Four: Perform a paired choice majority vote by the class (using a show of hands or online polling per instructions by your teacher), comparing the #1 choice of Team 1 to the #1 choice of Team 2; the winner of the Team 1 vs. Team 2 vote against the #1 choice of Team 3, etc. (In the case of same #1 choice, no voting is required as there is a clear majority preference.) Record the winning majority vote per match-up on the handout provided and make note whether voting reveals a consistent preference. (In large classes, up to ten teams will be randomly selected for match up by you instructor, but all students will vote on preferences.) (15 minutes)

Step Five Discussion: Be prepared to share your answers to the following questions by first discussing them with your team (10 minutes) then the class as guided by your instructor (15 minutes.)

  • How satisfied are you with the results of the end rankings of this exercise? Did they closely resemble your individual choices or that of your team?
  • How were choices made by your team?
  • Did your team experience inefficient voting outcomes (strength of preference is not shown in a single vote) or efficient voting outcomes? Did political logrolling occur? Did any students band together and form a special interest group?
  • Were any other issues of democratic process experienced by your team?
  • As a class, were there clear preferences in voting results or were there no consistent preferences through paired-choice voting? Were the class voting results an example of the paradox of voting?
  • Any other thoughts you'd like to share with the class?
Student handout Public Choice Theory (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 293kB May5 20)

Teaching Notes and Tips

It is recommended that this activity follows discussion and/or reading of public choice theory and would benefit from a brief review of the below bullet pointed concepts tied to this area of study. One resource to facilitate this is found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJag3vuG834

This activity is a way to have students experience the issues of majority voting including but not limited to:

  • The paradox of voting (a situation in which society may not be able to rank its preferences consistently through paired-choice majority voting),
  • Inefficient voting outcomes (where a single vote does not show strength of preference),
  • Special interest groups (people who share strong preferences band together and direct persuasion),
  • And/or political logrolling (the trading of votes to secure outcomes.)

This activity has five steps and takes approximately 75 minutes of time. Prior to beginning the steps the class will be broken into teams of five students each and identified as Team 1, Team 2, Team 3, etc. Then distribute the Student Handout titled: Public Choice Theory.

Step One: Individually, students will review the below list of hypothetical proposals considered for funding by the federal government. Then, rank them according to personal preferences from choice #1 through choice #5 in the handout page titled "Team Preference Rankings" (5 minutes.)

A. Increase funding for national and state parks so that entrance fees are no longer required.

B. Increase funding for local and state governments for the purposes of eliminating metered parking fees.

C. Legalizing marijuana at the federal level and applying a tax on marijuana products at the state level.

D. Increase funding for cancer research and treatment.

E. Increase funding for opioid drug education and opioid addiction rehabilitation centers.

Step Two: Students will share rankings with your team and record team member's rankings in the handout page titled "Team Preference Rankings.") Then, teams will negotiate and decide upon a team ranking of the team's first (#1) and second (#2) ranked item. Teams should take brief notes on how the first and second ranked item was decided. Encourage them to reflect upon how difficult or easy the choice was for the team (20 minutes.)

Step Three: Teams should briefly report their first and second ranked items to the class. Writing team first choices on the whiteboard or projected would then facilitate later discussion of voting results vs. team preferences.

Step Four: Using the handout provided or on a whiteboard, record the results of paired choice majority votes by the class (using a show of hands or online polling.) In large classes, up to ten teams will be randomly selected for match up by you instructor, but all students will vote on preferences. These results may also be followed and recorded by students. (15 minutes)

- For example, comparing the #1 ranked choice of Team 1 to the #1 ranked choice of Team 2 and recording the class majority-voting winner in this paired choice;

-the majority-vote winner of the Team 1 vs. Team 2 is then paired against the #1 ranked choice of Team 3 for the class to vote upon, etc.

(In the case of same #1 choice, no voting is required as there is a clear majority preference.) Make note whether voting reveals a consistent preference by the class. Discuss why this may be the case, or why not.

Step Five Wrap-up Discussion: Begin a broader, class-wide discussion, after students have been given 10-15 minutes to discuss their answers to the below questions within their teams. The use of online polling of some of the below discussion questions may quickly reveal class viewpoints and facilitate discussion. Remind students of the purpose of the exercise: to evaluate whether the class experiences any of the challenges of majority voting.

  • How satisfied are you with the results of the end rankings of this exercise? Did they closely resemble your individual choices or that of your team?
  • How were choices made by your team?
  • Did your team experience inefficient voting outcomes (strength of preference is not shown in a single vote) or efficient voting outcomes? Did political logrolling occur? Did any students band together and form a special interest group?
  • Were any other issues of democratic process experienced by your team?
  • As a class, were there clear preferences in voting results or were there no consistent preferences through paired-choice voting? Were the class voting results an example of the paradox of voting?
  • Any other thoughts you'd like to share with the class?

Assessment

When polled, city residents had no clear ranking of preference for the three below items proposed to beautify their town. Which issue(s) with voting might this exemplify?
a. new dog park
b. flower pots at all crosswalks
c. fresh holiday wreaths during the winter months

References and Resources

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tJag3vuG834