Voting in Search of the Public Good: The Probabilistic Logic of Majority Judgments

I argue for an epistemic conception of voting, a conception on which the purpose of the ballot is at least in some cases to identify which of several policy proposals will best promote the public good. To support this view I first briefly investigate several notions of the kind of public good that public policy should promote. Then I examine the probability logic of voting as embodied in two very robust versions of the Condorcet Jury Theorem and some related results. These theorems show that if the number of voters or legislators is sufficiently large and the average of their individual propensities to select the better of two policy proposals is a little above random chance, and if each person votes his or her own best judgment (rather than in alliance with a block or faction), then the majority is extremely likely to select the better alternative. Here ‘better alternative’ means that policy or law that will best promote the public good. I also explicate a Convincing Majorities Theorem, which shows the extent to which the majority vote should provide evidence that the better policy has been selected. Finally, I show how to extend all of these results to judgments among multiple alternatives through the kind of sequential balloting typical of the legislative amendment process.
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