SPIA Professor’s Experiment Results in New Findings about Committee Voting

Earlier this year, SPIA professor Keith Dougherty published an article in the Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization about how stopping rules for committees affect the outcomes of committee voting. Dougherty co-published this article with two SPIA graduate students, Alice Kisaalita and Jordan McKissick, and one SPIA undergraduate, Evan Katz.

There are three ways that committees can stop voting: a majority vote to adjourn, a fixed time period, or when the committee chair decides to adjourn. Some strands of economic theory suggest that committees will reach the same outcome regardless of how voting stops. However, after an experiment simulating the different adjournment options, Dougherty and his team found that isn’t necessarily true.

They reached these results by setting up a spatial voting game in the Candler Lab. Each experimental subject was randomly assigned to a computer and was given an ideal point, the point that would give the subject their greatest payoff, representing the maximum they could be paid in the space. Subjects received payment incrementally based off of the results their committee reached, the closer it was to their ideal point, the higher the payoff. Dougherty and his team ran several of these voting games and alternated the method of adjourning to compare the results.

Dougherty found that a vote by the majority to adjourn resulted in similar results as voting during a fixed time period. However, he and his team found that allowing the chair to decide when to adjourn resulted in a longer voting process and voting conclusions closer to what the chair wanted. From this finding, Dougherty concludes, “What’s interesting is it’s the power to have adjournment that gives the chair power.”

In addition, Dougherty is working on a research project that explores what made delegates successful at the Constitutional Convention. He is examining different factors including how well the delegates were socially networked, how much they argued on various votes, and the size of their state, among other factors.

Dougherty is also organizing SPIA’s 2018 Constitution Day celebration, on September 17th.