Sauermann, J. (2021) “Prosociality in Majority Decisions: A Laboratory Experiment on the Robustness of the Uncovered Set,” Journal of Experimental Political Science. Cambridge University Press, pp. 1–14. doi: 10.1017/XPS.2020.43.
Social choice theory demonstrates that majority rule is generically indeterminate. However, from an empirical perspective, large and arbitrary policy shifts are rare events in politics. The uncovered set (UCS) is the dominant preference-based explanation for the apparent empirical predictability of majority rule in multiple dimensions. Its underlying logic assumes that voters act strategically, considering the ultimate consequences of their actions. I argue that all empirical applications of the UCS rest on an incomplete behavioral model assuming purely egoistically motivated individuals. Beyond material self-interest, prosocial motivations offer an additional factor to explain the outcomes of majority rule. I test my claim in a series of committee decision-making experiments in which I systematically vary the fairness properties of the policy space while keeping the location of the UCS constant. The experimental results overwhelmingly support the prosociality explanation.