Sauermann, Jan (2020): „The effects of communication on the occurrence of the tyranny of the majority under voting by veto“, Social Choice and Welfare
The tyranny of the majority is one of the most frequently discussed problems of democracy in political theory. It arises when winning majorities are fixed and permanent, and there are no checks on the majority’s ability to dominate the minority. In this paper, I investigate the effects of communication on the occurrence of majority domination. Theoretically, communication cuts both ways. On the one hand, forming and maintaining a coalition requires coordination between individuals, which is barely accomplishable without opportunities to communicate. On the other hand, communication strengthens prosocial orientations in groups and should thus prevent the permanent exclusion of minorities. I argue that publicity of communication is crucial. The prosocial effects of communication dominate when communication is public whereas exclusive majorities form under private communication. I test my claim in a series of laboratory experiments where five-member committees make distributional decisions using the voting mechanism ‘voting by veto’. Compared to a baseline treatment without communication, groups distribute benefits more equally when they have the opportunity to communicate in a public chat. When communication is private, however, majoritarian coalitions form that exclude a minority of group members from the distribution of benefits.