Grupos de Investigación

Appraising Freedom of Choice During Political Elections: A Theoretical Approach

  • Chantós Guilherme Antunes Mariani (Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul, Brasil)
Freedom to choose and to exercise political rights during an election can be seen as a central element for a life worth of living. Sen (1999), when discussing the reasons people have to value democracy, pinpoints the constructive importance that democratic regimes exert in the definition of needs, rights and duties, and how this fosters a proper evaluation of which available candidates may fulfill more effectively those needs. In this context, information about candidates’ political platforms is of the utmost importance in the promotion of public discussion, the reaching of a well considered decision, and to the effective expression of one’s own political opinions.
Nevertheless, the literature on electoral competition (e.g. Downs (1957), Shepsle (1972), Page (1976), and others) sustain that the best strategy for candidates may be the adoption of ambiguous positions on issues, leading voters to a higher state of uncertainty regarding the competitors’ real opinions on relevant matters. Hence, the present essay discusses how uncertainty about candidates’ opinions on issues can affect voters’ perception of freedom of choice during political elections, using the Freedom of Choice Literature (FCL), originated in Suppes (1987), Sen (1988) and Pattanaik and Xu (1990). We focus on two axiomatic approaches: the simple cardinality-based ordering of Pattanaik and Xu (1990) and the known-option-based rule of Arlegi and Dimitrov (2005). Since the former disregards uncertainty about alternatives, while the later introduces it explicitly as a relevant factor for the perception of freedom, both approaches are compared and some results are proposed.
We suppose that candidates are seen as lotteries over the space of issues (Shepsle (1972), McKelvey (1980)), named ideological space, and that the entropy associated to these lotteries can be used to classify candidates into known and unknown, i.e., the two distinct groups proposed in the known-option-based rule, depending on how tolerant voters are regarding uncertainty about candidates opinions. Also, it is suggested that the principle of maximum entropy of Jaynes (1957) can be an useful tool to determine those lotteries. The main conclusions are: a) both freedom approaches converge to the same results only if individuals are completely tolerant about uncertainty during the choice procedure, or if there is no uncertainty regarding candidates’ positions on issues; b) the 2 C. Antunes Mariani absence of complete tolerance, associated to a campaign strategy adopted by candidates that do not reveal any relevant information, lead electors to enjoy the minimum degree of freedom of choice while deciding the vote; and c) the total priority to known candidates in Arlegi and Dimitrov’s rule may lead to a counterintuitive result, where an election with only one candidate may provide higher freedom of choice to voters compared to an election with many candidates

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