Can we make our voting system better?
Is it time to change the way we vote? UTS researchers have been testing a new system of voting that provides politicians with a better way to gauge not only the public’s views but also how strongly they feel.
Rather than one vote per person, the system uses a bidding mechanism where, if you care strongly about an issue, you can buy extra votes. The catch is that the cost goes up quadratically – so the first vote is $1, the second $4, the third $9, with 100 votes costing $10,000.
“With referenda, people express a binary choice for a proposal – yes or no. This doesn’t tell you anything about the intensity of their preference, whereas our system factors that in,” says the Director of the Behavioural Lab at UTS Business School, Dr Jingjing Zhang.
LISTEN: Think Business Futures podcast: Examining assumptions about our electoral systems with Dr Jingjing Zhang and social researcher Rebecca Huntley.
Another feature of the system is that all voters receive a cash rebate equal to the average of the other voters’ payments. In this way, the system redistributes money from those who gain from the outcome to those who lose.
“A disadvantage of majority voting is that those who lose don’t get any compensation. For example, if the issue is a rezoning policy and this causes your house price to go down, you simply lose out, whereas the bid system provides some recompense,” Dr Zhang says.
This doesn’t tell you anything about the intensity of their preference, whereas our system factors that in.
The bidding mechanism could be useful from a local council level up to major issues decided in Federal Parliament. It could also be used in non-political settings where there are multiple people trying to choose between two alternatives.
“While in the past Australia has only occasionally used referenda or plebiscites, such as the one on same-sex marriage, to gauge public opinion, a more effective voting mechanism would perhaps facilitate an increase in direct participation,” she says.
When Dr Zhang and her UNSW co-author first tested their bidding mechanism in a laboratory environment, they found that not only did it work well but when given a choice between standard voting and the bidding mechanism 90 per cent of the participants preferred the bidding mechanism.
Participants said they liked the cash rebate and they had a greater sense of control over their fate. With standard voting, they felt it was very unlikely their vote would be pivotal.
When Dr Zhang’s first paper was published in the esteemed economics journal Games and Economic Behavior, some people raised concern that the bid voting system would give the rich more influence. However, Dr Zhang says there is reason to doubt this.
“Buying an election is very costly, and the payments that are required imply substantial redistributions that benefit all.” The laboratory data showed that moderate voters benefit most under the bidding mechanism.
“The wealthy already extend influence via donations to political parties,” she notes. “These campaign contributions often represent wasteful rent-seeking of little or no social value.”
Link to paper: One man, one bid
Jacob K. Goeree and Jingjing Zhang
Games and Economic Behavior (2017)
UTS Behavioural Lab
The Behavioural Lab at UTS Business School offers state-of-the-art equipment and technologies to support researchers in testing theoretical models. It also provides practitioners with policy recommendations that have been thoroughly tested in controlled experiments.
The Lab is on Level 4 of the Dr Chau Chak Wing Building. The Behavioural Lab Grant scheme funds experimental studies conducted in the Lab by UTS Business School academics and PhD students.