Deciding on what to Decide


We study two-stage collective decision-making procedures involving a voting body. In a first stage, part of the voters are in charge of deciding what issues will be debated and which ones will not be discussed and remain unsettled. In the second stage, the whole set of voters decides on the positions to be adopted regarding the issues that are in the agenda. Using a protocol-free equilibrium concept introduced by Dutta et al. (2004), we study the tension between two forces that the agenda-setters must weigh. One is the desire to include in the agenda those issues on which they could get society to adopt their preferred positions. The other is their fear that including some favorable issues might induce other agenda setters to add further issues to the agenda, on which the social position might not be favorable to their interests. Our analysis concentrates on societies that use two salient classes of voting procedures: sequential rules and voting by quota. For these rules we show that essentially any set of issues can be obtained as an equilibrium agenda. We also discover that the power of the chair to manipulate sequential rules may go as far as to be able to avoid certain issues to get to the floor. Moreover, limited changes in the preferences of the agenda setters may result in dramatic changes in the size and composition of agendas.

Published as: Deciding on what to Decide in International Economic Review , Vol. 63, No. 1, February, 2022