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37, 313–332 Copyright © 2007 Cambridge University Press

doi:10.1017/S0007123407000154 Printed in the United Kingdom

Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty:

A Re-Evaluation of Duverger’s Law

Political scientists have long recognized that the number of parties in a country influences the way that interests
are represented in that country. One explanation for the number of parties in a system relies on the idea of
strategic voting, i.e. voters may not want to ‘waste a vote’ by voting for a third party. However, work in
this area does not address the role of an important factor that may affect party systems through strategic
voting: information. Without polls, how could voters know which parties were likely to win, and hence how
to vote strategically? Using an agent-based model, this article assesses the role that information plays in
shaping the party system through strategic voting. The results of this model demonstrate that, contrary to
Duverger’s Law, more than two parties may emerge in single-member plurality systems, even when all voters
are strategic.

Party systems help to determine which interests in a society are represented, the ways in
which conflict between these interests are channelled, and the overall stability of the
political system. For these reasons, political scientists have devoted considerable attention
to explaining the origins and nature of party systems. What determines the nature of a
competitive party system?
One important approach to this question focuses on electoral systems as an independent
variable. Duverger is the most well-known advocate of this approach, proposing his
famous ‘law’ that single-member plurality systems tend to produce two-party systems and
proportional representation systems tend to produce multi-party systems.1 Reaction to
Duverger’s Law took primarily two forms: those who agreed with the basic premise that
electoral systems were the primary determinant of party systems, but felt that the
relationships were somehow different from those proposed by Duverger,2 and those who
believed that party systems were primarily driven by societal cleavages, regardless of
electoral structure.3
I argue that the nature of party systems depends not only on institutions and cleavages
but also in an equally fundamental way on the availability of public information. To see
why public information might matter, consider that one of the primary mechanisms
facilitating the relationship between a given electoral system and a party system is strategic
action by voters. Scholars assert that voters do not want to ‘waste their vote’; that is, voters

* Department of Political Science, University of North Texas. The author would like to thank Jamie Druckman,
Phil Shively, Bill Flanigan, Diana Richards and reviewers for helpful feedback on earlier drafts of this article.
A previous version of it was presented at the 2001 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.
Any mistakes remaining are solely the responsibility of the author.
Maurice Duverger, Political Parties (New York: Wiley, 1954).
E.g. Douglas W. Rae, The Political Consequences of Electoral Laws (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University
Press, 1971).
E.g. Seymour M. Lipset and Stein Rokkan, Party Systems and Voter Alignments: Cross-National Perspective
(New York: The Free Press, 1967).

do not want to vote for a candidate or party unlikely to win election.4 This makes it very
difficult for more than two parties to gain support in single-member plurality systems.5
In order to make a good strategic decision (of not wasting their votes), voters must know
the relative distribution of candidates in the electorate. For instance, a voter in the United
States 2000 election needed to know that Nader had a very small percentage of the vote
and Gore was nearly tied in his state in order to place a correct strategic vote. In addition,
every voter must have the same information about who is ahead and who is behind in order
for co-ordination on two parties to occur. With such information in hand, voters in
single-member plurality systems can vote strategically and ultimately co-ordinate on two
parties or candidates (e.g., Gore and Bush). Most scholars implicitly assume that voters
have ready access to such information, but there are circumstances in which they will not.
While the constant barrage of polls makes this kind of information readily available in
contemporary American elections,6 there are many other circumstances where such
information was not or is not available. For instance, historically, polls would not have been
available in the United States or elsewhere. Furthermore, in many contemporary
democracies, information of this kind is not readily available. This raises various questions.
What happens to party systems when voters lack the information necessary to engage in
strategic voting? Do plurality systems still limit the number of parties to two? What
happens as the amount of information voters possess increases – at what point do they have
sufficient information to co-ordinate on two parties?
In this article I address these questions by presenting a model that examines the role of
public information in determining the number of parties in single-member plurality
systems. I begin with a discussion of the debate over which variables affect party systems.
I then explore how game theorists have modelled the relationship between strategic voting
and party systems, focusing on Cox’s model.7 This discussion will provide some insight
into why a new approach is necessary to explore the effects of information. I then introduce
and motivate the technique of agent-based modelling. Using agent-based modelling, I
present a new model of strategic voting that yields a number of new insights. Perhaps most
importantly, I find that the relationship between electoral and party systems does not
always function as Duverger predicted: single-member plurality systems do not always
result in two-party systems, even when all voters vote strategically. This relationship
depends on the quantity of information available to voters, as well as the number of parties
they face.


In his now famous ‘law’, Duverger pointed out that single-member plurality systems limit
the number of parties to two, while proportional representation systems allow more parties
to flourish.8 Duverger points to two restrictions that single-member plurality systems place
on the number of parties: the ‘mechanical effect’ and the ‘psychological effect’. The

Duverger, Political Parties; Gary Cox, ‘Strategic Voting Equilibria Under the Single Non-Transferable
Vote’, American Political Science Review, 88 (1994), 608–21; Gary Cox, Making Votes Count (New York:
Cambridge University Press, 1997).
A single-member plurality system is one in which each electoral district elects only one representative and
that representative is chosen by receiving a plurality of the vote.
Cox, Making Votes Count, p. 79.
Cox, ‘Strategic Voting Equilibria under the Single Non-transferable Vote’; and Cox, Making Votes Count.
Duverger, Political Parties.
Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 315

mechanical effect refers to the under-representation of third parties in single-member

plurality systems.9 The psychological effect follows from the mechanical effect: because
third parties are unlikely to get a third of the vote, the necessary condition for representation
with three parties in a single-member plurality system,10 they are unlikely to gain
representation in accordance with their support. Because these restrictions are lifted in
proportional representation systems, more parties will have a chance to win support.

S T R A T E G I C V O T I N G, P A R T Y S Y S T E M S A N D G A M E T H E O R Y

Game theorists have become increasingly interested in Duverger’s Law.11 Most of this
research builds on Duverger’s psychological effect. The psychological effect lends itself
naturally to game theoretic analysis, as it is essentially decision making on the basis of
expected utility. Early efforts by Cox and Palfrey focused on strategic voting in
single-member plurality districts.12 Both models supported Duverger’s Law by demon-
strating diminished support for third parties. Game theorists have also begun to explore
what will happen in electoral systems besides plurality. In particular, Cox’s extension of
his earlier work demonstrated that the effect of strategic voting is to place an upper limit
on the number of parties in a system.13
Conceptualizing Duverger’s Law as a game theoretic problem helped clarify its results
and conditions. In particular, it clarified the importance of voter information in strategic
voting.14 Game theory is, by its nature, explicit about the informational conditions
necessary in order to determine equilibria. Equilibria in game theoretic models are
dependent on the assumption that voters have shared expectations about how many people
will vote for each candidate. The assumptions inherent in game theory imply that in order
to co-ordinate successfully through strategic voting, voters must have some source of
public information about candidate support. That is, the same information must be
available to every voter.
In this article I am interested in looking at what happens when global information is
unavailable – when polling results and accurate news analyses are not readily available
to every voter. Instead, I rely on local information. Local information is information that
individuals gather from their immediate environment – friends, colleagues, things they see
on the street. The crucial difference between local information and global information is
that local information can vary from person to person, depending on with whom the
individual comes into contact on a regular basis.
Duverger, Political Parties, p. 226.
John Sprague, ‘On Duverger’s Sociological Law: The Connection Between Electoral Laws and Party
Systems’ (St. Louis: Washington University, Political Science Paper No. 48, 1980).
While game theorists have become interested in strategic voting in the last fifteen years, a number of decision
theorists tackled the issue somewhat earlier. Important works include Richard McKelvey and Peter Ordeshook,
‘A General Theory of the Calculus of Voting’, in J. F. Herndon and J. L. Bernd, Mathematical Applications in
Political Science, 6 (1972), pp. 32–78; and Dale T. Hoffman, ‘A Model for Strategic Voting’, SIAM Journal of
Applied Mathematics, 42 (1982), 751–61.
Gary Cox, ‘Duverger’s Law and Strategic Voting’ (unpublished, University of Texas, 1987); Thomas
Palfrey, ‘A Mathematical Proof of Duverger’s Law’, in Peter C. Ordeshook, ed., Models of Strategic Choice in
Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1989), pp. 69–91.
Cox, ‘Strategic Voting Equilibria under the Single Non-transferable Vote’; Cox, Making Votes Count.
For instance, Mark Fey’s (‘Stability and Coordination in Duverger’s Law: A Formal Model of Preelection
Polls and Strategic Voting’, American Political Science Review, 91 (1997), 135–47) treatment of Roger Meyerson
and Robert Weber’s (‘A Theory of Voting Equilibria’, American Political Science Review, 87 (1993), 102–14)
model showed how polling could eliminate non-Duvergerian equilibria.

This omission is particularly interesting because of the number of empirical exceptions

to Duverger’s Law. While there is much support for Duverger’s Law, empirical exceptions
do remain. Looking at variation in information may help explain these exceptions.


Game theoretic work clarified the relationship between strategic voting and number of
parties. Given the empirical evidence for strategic voting, cited above, and the strong
theoretical link between strategic voting and Duverger’s Law, one would expect that
Duverger’s Law always holds. Yet there are many exceptions, both historically and in
current times.
The United States, while generally considered a two-party system, has also had periods
in which third parties have arisen at the local level. Indeed, Sundquist argues that these
periods were particularly important in American political history because they were part
of the process of realignment.15 The Republican party, for instance, arose in an established
two-party system in the United States. The late nineteenth century was marked with the
rise of third parties in the West in response to the debate over the gold and silver standard.
Many of these parties received considerably more support than their modern counterparts,
and some received representation in Congress.
Kollman and Chhibber recently pointed out that the United States is not the only
exception to this rule.16 Britain, Canada and India all also demonstrate an average of more
than two effective parties at the district level during the course of their histories. Kollman
and Chhibber provide no explanation for this district-level exception to Duverger’s Law,
focusing instead on why and when national party systems look like local party systems.
Looking at public information may help provide an explanation for district level
multi-partism in one of two ways. First, it may be that the availability of polls varies across
localities, just as it varies historically. For instance, more readily available mass media in
urban areas may make it more likely that voters will have access to district-level polls.
Alternatively, lack of polling data on district-level races may allow the limit of two parties
to be lifted. For example, polling results in India are not given at the district level, and even
high quality national level results are hard to obtain.17 This would allow for other forces,
such as social cleavages, to have an impact.


The availability of information is recognized as key to the mechanisms underlying

Duverger’s Law,18 but little has been done to explain these cases based on variations in
information. In addition, there are just a handful of empirical studies looking at the role
of voter information in strategic voting. In only one case was the primary focus on the role
of information. Results of these studies are mixed. Abramson et al. find that information
appears to have no effect on strategic voting.19 In contrast, Black finds that information
James Sundquist, Dynamics of the Party System (Washingon, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1986).
Pradeep K. Chhibber and Ken Kollman, The Formation of National Party Systems (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton
University Press, 2004).
Rajeeva L. Karandikar, Clive Payne and Yogendra Yadav, ‘Predicting the 1998 Indian Parliamentary
Election’, Electoral Studies, 21 (2002), 69–89.
Cox, Making Votes Count, p. 79.
Paul R. Abramson, John H. Aldrich, Phil Paolino and David W. Rohde, ‘Sophisticated Voting in the 1988
Presidential Primaries’, American Political Science Review, 86 (1992), 55–69.
Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 317

does have an effect on strategic voting.20 In both studies, there are potential measurement
problems: neither of these authors could measure information in exactly the way they
wanted. Both studies are interesting, but neither is definitive.
Both of the above works look at the role of information in strategic voting. However,
neither is focused entirely on the problem. Forsythe et al.21 is the only empirical work that
looks specifically at voter information and strategic voting. In this article, the authors use
experiments to look at the role of election histories and polls in influencing voters’ ability
to co-ordinate. They find that in a one-shot co-ordination game, voters did a better job of
co-ordinating when they had polls than when they did not. Polls are of critical importance
in helping voters to co-ordinate.
A number of questions remain unanswered by these studies. It seems safe to say that
in most situations, even those who are politically uninformed will not be left without
information entirely. What happens to voter co-ordination when information is reduced
but not eliminated?


Just as information has not played a big role in empirical studies of strategic voting, it has
also not played a big role in theoretical explanations of strategic voting and parties. One
of the reasons information has not been part of a theory of parties in the past is that many
theories have been developed using game theory, and game theory does not allow for much
variation in information. In game theory, it is very difficult to alter the assumption of
common knowledge. This means that every player must know the preferences of every
other player, every player must know that every player has this information, every player
knows that every other player has this information, ad infinitum. It is from the assumption
of common knowledge that Cox’s assumption about shared expectations is derived. Cox
specifies that expectations regarding the standing of the candidates must be rational with
respect to the players’ information about the preferences of others. Because players all
know the preferences of the other players, their expectations regarding the support for
candidates are shared. Cox does loosen the assumption of common knowledge by setting
up his model as a game with incomplete information. Under these circumstances, players
need only know the distribution of preferences in the electorate, not the exact preferences
of other players. It is difficult, however, to loosen this assumption more within the confines
of game theory.22
A model of some kind would be useful to explore this question systematically. A model
gives structure to a problem and helps make sense of sometimes confusing or contradictory
results. However, a traditional rational choice model, such as a game theory model, is not
an option. If one wants to model strategic voting without using the assumption of shared
Jerome Black, ‘The Multicandidate Calculus of Voting: Applications to Canadian Federal Elections’,
American Journal of Political Science, 22 (1978), 609–38.
Robert Forsythe et al., ‘An Experiment on Coordination in Multicandidate Elections: The Importance of Polls
and Election Histories’, Social Choice and Welfare, 10 (1993), 223–47.
Recently David P. Myatt and Stephen D. Fisher, ‘Tactical Coordination in Plurality Electoral Systems’,
Oxford Review of Economic Policy, 18 (2002), 504–22; and David P. Myatt, ‘A New Theory of Strategic Voting’,
Oxford Working Paper, no. 12 (2002), used the concept of a global game to look at strategic voting without
common knowledge. Global games are games that alter the assumption of common knowledge by having each
player observe a noisy signal from the true state of things. While the system generating the noise is common
knowledge, the underlying state is not. This approach does allow the authors to move further from the common
knowledge assumption.

expectations, and game theory will not allow us to do this, then where does one start? One
modelling approach that is relatively new to political science, but has a great deal of
potential in addressing these kinds of problems, is agent-based modelling.


Agent-based modelling is somewhat new to political science, though one can find threads
of this thinking as far back as the 1970s.23 It derives mainly from the field of distributed
artificial intelligence. Distributed artificial intelligence deals with modelling organization
and intelligence that seems to have no central leadership; classic examples include flocks
of birds and colonies of ants organizing to carry away food. Individual agents within these
models know nothing about what is going on in the group as a whole. Instead, they pay
attention to what is ‘local’ to them – those other agents that are closest to them in some
way, or the environment in which they find themselves. This is one of the most fundamental
ways in which agent-based modelling and game theory differ: in game theory, individuals
are expected to know a great deal about what is going on in the group as a whole, whereas
in agent-based modelling, individuals may know a lot or a little about what is going on.
This increased flexibility with respect to information is possible because of even more
fundamental differences between the two paradigms: while game theory is based on a
deductive technique, agent-based modelling utilizes computational experiments to derive
results. In these experiments, the modeller plugs in test values for the parameters and uses
the model to simulate the process she is interested in. Because the modeller is using
simulations to solve the model, she does not derive a closed form solution. While some
models may reach a convergence point, computational models do not involve finding a
game theoretic equilibrium.
There is always the possibility that results will vary when new values for the parameters
are given. This makes it more difficult to do comparative statics, because the model may
arrive at slightly different end states each time the model is run. The computational
approach is also helpful when one is interested in studying the dynamics of a process.
Instead of focusing on finding an equilibrium, the modeller sees how various elements
interact to lead up to a stable state.
The qualities outlined make agent-based modelling an appropriate technique for
studying strategic voting without the assumption of shared expectations about the
placement of candidates. In an agent-based model, voters may still have information about
the preferences or actions of other voters. This seems reasonable, since voters could collect
this information from talking to others, reading political signs and witnessing or attending
rallies. An agent-based model does not require, however, that they know the distribution
of preferences in the electorate as a whole. This makes it possible to dispense with the
empirical assumptions of polls.


In the new model of strategic voting, I create a population of voters. These voters are
located within a social network. These voters vote, then ‘talk’ to other voters located close
to them in the network to find out whom they selected in the previous iteration. Using the
information they have gathered from these other voters, they calculate the likelihood that

Thomas Schelling, Micromotives and Macrobehavior (New York: W.W. Norton, 1978).
Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 319

each of the candidates will win the election. They then use this information to calculate
expected utility based on their preferences associated with the candidates and their
perceptions about how likely the candidates are to win. This expected utility calculation
is used in order to place a strategic vote. The number of voters each voter talks to is varied
in order to assess the impact of an increase or decrease in information on voter
co-ordination. The details of this model are discussed below.
My model is closer to decision theoretic than to game theoretic because individual voters
do not take into account the simultaneous switching of other voters. Instead, they rely on
other voters’ selections during previous iterations, which reflect each individual’s strategic
adjustments. However, what I am interested in is the outcome at the end of a run of strategic
adjustments, not the outcome of any particular one of the strategic adjustments leading up
to the final vote. This final vote reflects all previous strategic adjustments, and is similar
to accounting for the simultaneous switching of others; indeed, game theorists often tell
a dynamic story when they explain how players reach equilibrium. For this reason, I think
it is appropriate to compare the results to game theoretic results.
One of my goals for this model is to make it readily comparable to Cox’s24 and other
game theoretic models of strategic voting and Duverger’s Law. In order to make the model
as similar to Cox’s as possible, I have borrowed many of Cox’s assumptions; in particular,
I use his decision rule and his method of calculating probabilities of winning. The only
element of Cox’s model I want to change is the quantity of information available to voters
and, to the extent possible within a new framework, I have done my best to make this the
only major change.

Each voter has a preference ordering over the candidates. This preference rating is derived
endogenously in the model. Voters are randomly assigned an ideological placement on a
single policy dimension. This policy dimension takes the form of a uniform distribution
of integers from 1 to 100. Each party is assigned an ideological placement from the same
scale. The utility each voter, j, associates with each party, y, is then calculated using the
following equation:
uj(y) ⫽ ⫺ (xj ⫺ y)2.
Basically, the further a voter is from the party, the lower the utility associated with that
party and the less the voter prefers that party. This approach is adapted from Kollman et
al.’s model of adaptive parties.25 I chose to simplify their approach by using just a single
dimensional policy space. Given that the focus here is on considering the number of parties,
not their position, multiple policy dimensions are an unnecessary complication.26
This approach has advantages in that it is intuitive, simple and very amenable to a
computational model. However, this approach is not the one usually taken in game

Cox, Making Votes Count.
Kenneth Kollman, John Miller and Scott Page, ‘Adaptive Parties in Spatial Elections’, American Political
Science Review, 86 (1992), 929–37.
Given the simple nature of the model and the way utilities are calculated, multiple policy dimensions should
have no effect in this model. However, it is possible that multi-dimensional preferences would affect where
individuals acquire information. Voters may acquire information about different policy areas from different parts
of their social networks. One interesting variation on the relatively simple model here would be to have individuals
collecting information about different dimensions from different individuals.

theoretic models of strategic voting. In both Cox’s and Palfrey’s models of strategic voting
voters’ preferences are assigned exogenously.27 Voters are assigned a utility of 1 for their
most preferred candidate, 0 for their least preferred candidate and some value ui associated
with a middle candidate. Preferences are strict, i.e. voters cannot like two candidates
exactly the same amount. Cox notes that the strict preferences condition is a necessary one
for the model.28 Since utilities in the model I present here are not strict, this mitigates
against finding similar results to Cox; however, even with this change, my model produces
results very similar to Cox’s when the informational conditions are similar.

The primary difference between the model presented here and similar game theoretic
models, like Cox’s, is the difference in information available to voters. In Cox’s model,
voters are assumed to have a source of shared information about standings of candidates,
which Cox suggests is derived from publicly available polls. In my model, voters are
arranged in a network. Information is gathered only from the people each voter is situated
near. These neighbours are those whom the voter encounters and from whom she collects
information prior to making a decision. Empirically, this kind of communication may be
through direct contact such as talking about the election, accounts of the election read in
the newspaper or witnessing party rallies. Voters can then use the information they have
gathered from their neighbours to make inferences about the distribution of support for the
parties. Each voter treats the information he receives from his neighbours as representative
of the distribution of the whole population. In other words, each individual does not
recognize the uncertainty inherent in only talking to a small group of the electorate. While
this may seem unrealistic, Tversky and Kahneman demonstrate that individuals do not
associate greater uncertainty with smaller sample size.29 It is also important to keep in mind
that the voters modelled here exist in a context in which polls are not readily available.
Such voters are even less likely to be familiar with statistical rules that relate sample size
and uncertainty.
In addition to looking at each voter’s immediate neighbours, I also look at what happens
when there is full information, i.e. when voters know the votes of every other voter in the
model. This provides an approximation of game theoretic informational conditions and
allows me to compare my model to Cox’s more readily.

Voters may derive their beliefs about who is doing best in the election from a small,
individual group of people, but the ways that those beliefs translate into expectations about
who will win is borrowed directly from game theoretic models. Voters use a multinomial
probability distribution to determine the probabilities that each candidate will be tied for
first, as in Cox and Palfrey.30 In order to calculate these probabilities, each individual treats
the information he receives from his neighbours as perfectly representative of the
distribution of support within the electorate. These probabilities are used in Cox’s model

Cox, Making Votes Count; Palfrey, ‘A Mathematical Proof of Duverger’s Law’.
Cox, Making Votes Count, p. 97.
Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, ‘Judgement Under Uncertainty’, Science, 185 (1974), 1124–31.
Cox, Making Votes Count; Palfrey, ‘A Mathematical Proof of Duverger’s Law’, p. 76.
Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 321

to calculate prospective ratings. A prospective rating for a candidate is basically an

expected utility calculation that considers how much a voter likes the candidate and the
likelihood that that candidate will be tied for first. It is calculated thus:

冘 T (u ⫺ u ),
j ⫽ jk j k

where K is the set of candidates, Tjk is the probability of a tie between candidates j and
k (calculated using a multinomial probability distribution) and uj, uk are the utilities
assigned to candidates k and j by the voter.31

Number of Parties
While in a game theoretic model I could specify a general number of parties, N, in a
computational model I must have a specific number of parties. The model is run with three
initial parties and again with four parties. This variation allows for meaningful
comparisons, but is technically feasible; more than four parties and some calculations
become unwieldy. ‘Initial parties’ do not necessarily refer to the number of parties in
existence at the beginning of a country’s electoral history, but can also be understood as
representing any situation in which a single-member plurality system finds itself with more
than two parties with significant support.

Electoral System
The electoral system modelled is single-member plurality. Again, this is done primarily
for the sake of simplicity. There is reason to believe, however, that inferences can be made
from this model to proportional representation systems. Scholars used to consider
single-member plurality systems and proportional representation systems as very distinct
in their impact on party systems.32 Cox shows how we can think of single-member plurality
systems and proportional representation systems as being on a continuum: the number of
seats in each district limits the maximum number of parties that can develop in this
district.33 I will show below that this upper limit is lifted in single-member plurality systems
when informational conditions are poor. While it is certainly worth looking at more closely,
it is reasonable to infer that lack of information will probably have the same kind of effect
on the upper limit in proportional representation systems as well.

Voters exist in a social network. They derive their information about who is ahead and who
is behind in the race by communicating with those they are connected to in this network.
This social network consists of those whom the voter gathers information from: friends,
colleagues, neighbours, people at a rally. The voter aggregates the information from each
associate to make an assessment of each candidate’s probable vote shares.
The network in this model consists of 169 voters arranged on a 13 ⫻ 13 grid. A 13 ⫻ 13
grid is the largest grid possible within the restrictions imposed by computer memory and

Prospective ratings were first used by Myerson and Weber, ‘A Theory of Equilibria’.
Duverger, Political Parties.
Cox, Making Votes Count.

processor limitations.34 Each voter has four side neighbours and four corner neighbours.
This grid takes the form of a torus.35 A torus is used so that each voter has an equal number
of neighbours. If a square were used instead, the voters on the edges would have fewer
neighbours than those in the centre. The grid is strictly geographical – it corresponds in
no way to ideological placement.
The grid structure of the network is not a natural one. Individuals in a real community
clearly do not have the same number of associates. It is, however, a very simple network,
easy to understand and to program, and it has been used for several important social science
models.36 In the interest of simplifying as many aspects of the model as possible, the grid
network is acceptable.
Different conditions are run for different sizes of personal networks, or neighbourhoods.
I begin with a neighbourhood size of eight – just those adjacent to the voter – and increase
it gradually until the neighbourhood includes everyone in the electorate. These increases
are made gradually by increasing the radius of the neighbourhood in which voters
communicate. Voters start out talking to those adjacent to them, a radius of one; in the next
condition, they speak to this original circle, and those immediately adjacent to this circle.
This continues until the radius is six and the number of neighbours is 168, at which point
the voter will be talking to everyone else in the electorate.

Model Steps
The model proceeds in the following way:
1. Voters and parties are assigned ideologies
Voters and parties are each assigned an integer between 1 and 100 as an ideology score.
2. Voters calculate the utilities associated with each party
The utility voter j associates with party y is calculated in the following manner:
uj ( y) ⫽ ⫺ (xj ⫺ y)2,
where xji is the voter j ’s position on issue i, and yi is party y’s position on issue i.
3. Voters vote
For the first election, voters vote to maximize their utility, i.e. they vote sincerely. In
subsequent elections, each voter votes for the candidate who maximizes their
prospective rating, i.e. they vote strategically.
4. Voters ‘talk’ to their neighbours
Each voter finds out the distribution of support for the parties among his/her neighbours.
In one condition of the model, the size of the neighbourhood is expanded to include
everyone in the community.
5. Voters calculate the likelihood that each pair of candidates will be tied for first
Treating the distribution of his neighbours as representative of the distribution of the
whole population, each voter then uses this information to calculate the probability that

The model was run on a Macintosh G5 computer with 1.25 GB of memory.
A torus is a shape in which the bottom and the top meet and the sides meet with one another; essentially,
it looks like a doughnut.
Lars-Erik Cederman, Emergent Actors in World Politics: How States and Nations Develop and Dissolve
(Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1997); and Joshua M. Epstein and Robert Axtell, Growing Artificial
Societies: Social Science from the Bottom Up (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1996).
Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 323

any two parties will be tied for first place. Tie probabilities, Tjk, are calculated using
a multinomial probability distribution.
6. Voters calculate the prospective rating for each candidate
Voters use tie probabilities to calculate a prospective rating as follows:37

冘 T (u ⫺ u ),
j ⫽ jk j k

where K is the set of candidates, Tjk is the probability of a tie between candidates j and
k (calculated using a multinomial probability distribution) and uj , uk are the utilities
assigned to candidates k and j by the voter.
7. Steps 3–6 are repeated.
Each run of the model consists of twenty iterations. Running the model for twenty
iterations allows it to settle at a consistent point. I tested the model to see if running it for
more than twenty elections would result in more activity, but the model almost always
settled down by the twentieth election. Each iteration of the model is not meant to be
equivalent to a real election. Instead, each run is analogous to a campaign and election
cycle, with each iteration being the equivalent of a point in the campaign. The model is
run under twelve different conditions – three initial parties and four initial parties, and
within each of these six different informational conditions. For each set of conditions, one
thousand runs of the model were conducted.


In a game theory model, the outcome of the model can be represented as a set
of mathematically specified equilibria. In agent-based modelling, the outcomes are
not so clearly defined. Computer simulations can produce huge amounts of data, but
it is up to the researcher to decide exactly what data needs to be drawn out of the
model and what should be done with this data. Discussed below are the two ways in
which I chose to measure voter co-ordination and the number of parties in the results of
the model.
The variable I am interested in measuring is the number of parties. Two measures are
used in order to capture this variable: the absolute number of parties that have gained over
5 per cent of the vote and SF ratios.38 Each of these measures sheds light on a different
aspect of the number of parties seen in a political system, and the use of both allows the
party system to be better understood.

Absolute Number of Parties

Perhaps the simplest way of looking at the number of parties a system has is simply by
counting the number of parties that have some kind of support. The first measure, then,
is simply the number of parties existing in the system. In this article, a party will be
counted if it is has more than 5 per cent of the vote. The 5 per cent threshold is grounded
empirically by the fact that several states in the United States use the 5 per cent cutoff for
determining which parties will receive official party status, and the national government
Roger Myerson and Robert Weber, ‘A Theory of Voting Equilibria’, American Political Review, 87 (1993),
Introduced in Cox, Making Votes Count.

uses the 5 per cent threshold to determine whether or not a party will receive public funding.
In addition, it serves as the threshold for representation for some proportional
representation systems, such as Germany. This threshold has also been used in previous
political science work.39

SF Ratios
The SF ratio is the second measure I use to examine the data produced by the model.
The SF ratio is different from the previous measure because it does not measure the
number of parties. Instead, it looks more explicitly at how well voters do at co-
ordinating on a given number of parties. Since the model I am considering is single-
member plurality, I am interested in how well voters co-ordinate on two parties.
The SF ratio is the ratio of the second runner-up’s vote total to the first runner-up’s vote
total for second runner-up
SF ratio ⫽ .
total for first runner-up

SF ratios are calculated for each election in the model. The data presented are from the
last round of each of the one thousand runs of the model. In order to analyse a given set
of conditions, one looks at the distribution of SF ratios. This distribution is usually
presented as a histogram. In the event that convergence to a Duvergerian party system is
achieved, support for the second runner-up should go to 0, hence making the SF
ratio 0. In a perfect Duvergerian world, then, we would expect to see a histogram of SF
ratios with a mode at 0. If convergence to a non-Duvergerian party system is achieved,
the support for the second and first runners-up should be the same; in this case, the SF ratio
would be 1. In an empirical analysis, a bi-modal distribution of SF ratios across districts
is evidence that strategic voting has occurred. However, when looking at the results of the
computational model, I expect a different sort of distribution. Non-Duvergerian equilibria
occur under knife’s edge conditions:40 the first and second runners-up must be tied exactly.
The uncertainty of real life elections, such as confidence intervals in polls, means that the
conditions do not need to be nearly so knife-edge in practice. In the computational model
presented here, however, conditions would need to be knife-edge in order to produce
convergence to a non-Duvergerian party system. Therefore, I expect to see a single mode
near 0 as being consistent with Duverger’s Law in this model.


In order to assess the impact of reduced information, it is important to understand how the
model works when voters are fully informed about the placement of candidates.
Understanding how voters act when they are fully informed about the preferences of other
voters accomplishes two things. First, it provides a critical baseline against which the
reduced information results can be compared. Game theorists and others have shown that
single-member plurality systems should produce two-party systems under conditions of
full information. I must demonstrate that my model produces a two-party system under

Kenneth Janda, Political Parties: A Cross-National Survey (New York: The Free Press, 1980).
Myatt, ‘A New Theory of Strategic Voting’.
Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 325

full information in order for the rest of the analysis to be relevant to this debate.
Furthermore, demonstrating that my model is capable of producing results similar to game
theoretic models lends validity to my approach to the problem.
It is important both to derive full information results from this model and to make them
readily comparable to similar game theoretic results. It is not immediately obvious,
however, how to make such comparisons valid. When strategic voting is modelled as a
co-ordination game, as in Cox, voters make one-shot decisions: they know other voters’
preference distribution over candidates, they deduce for whom those voters will place their
strategic votes, and they place their own strategic votes. The simple voters in my model
only have the results of what happened in the previous election. In the first iteration, they
are just voting sincerely. In the second iteration, they know the sincere vote of every other
voter. In the third iteration, they know the strategic vote of every other voter. It is not until
this third election, then, that the voters in my model have approximately the information
that a game theoretic voter would have. This makes the third round of election the most
appropriate for comparing to Cox’s results.
The SF ratio distributions in both the three-party and four-party cases are unimodal with
the mode near 0. In the three-party case, the mean is 0.03 and the median is 0; in the
four-party case, the mean is 0.04 and the median is 0. In addition, almost all systems had
only two parties after three rounds. For the three-party case, 96.3 per cent of the runs had
only two parties; in an additional 1.1 per cent, the SF ratio was close to 1, suggesting
convergence to a non-Duvergerian party system. In the four party case, 95.9 per cent of
cases had only two parties; in an additional 2 per cent, the SF ratio was close to 1, suggesting
convergence to a non-Duvergerian party system. The results of the model under full
information closely approximate those in Cox’s game theoretic model of strategic voting.
Consistent with Duverger’s Law, strategic voters in this model will co-ordinate on two
parties in single-member plurality systems when they are fully informed about the
preferences of other voters.


While a great deal of work has been done on the relationship between electoral and party
system, little work has been done to assess the role of voter information in mediating this
relationship. The results of this model demonstrate that this is a significant omission.
Variations in the level of information can have a number of profound effects on the
relationship between electoral and party system.
These results are presented in Table 1 and Figures 1–3. Table 1 shows how many runs
of each condition ended up with a one-party system, two-party system, three-party system
or four-party system by the twentieth election. The number of two-party systems for each
level of information, the quantity I am most interested in, is presented in the second row
of data in each section. I present data about the number of emergent two-party systems
in Figure 1, which shows the number of two-party systems in the final election as a function
of information; the number of two-party systems is graphed for each neighbourhood
size. Figure 1 clearly demonstrates that information does have a positive relationship with
voter co-ordination. Figure 2 presents the distribution of SF ratios in the final round of
elections when there are three initial parties, for the eight, twenty-four and forty-eight
neighbour conditions; Figure 3 presents the same data when there are four parties. When
the histogram has a spike at 0, voters have co-ordinated on two parties; when the histogram
does not have a spike at 0, voters have not co-ordinated well on two parties. Again, as

TABLE 1 Percentage of Absolute Number of Parties in System at Last Round

Number of neighbours
No. of parties
in last round 0 8 24 48 80 120 168*

Three initial parties

One 2 0 0 0 2 2 1
(0%) (0%) (0%) (0%) (0%) (0%) (0%)

Two 46 307 755 941 986 998 972

(5%) (31%) (75%) (94%) (99%) (100%) (97%)

Three 952 693 245 59 12 0 27

(95%) (69%) (25%) (6%) (1%) (0%) (2.7%)

Four initial parties

One 1 0 0 0 0 0 2
(0%) (0%) (0%) (0%) (0%) (0%) (0%)

Two 15 189 638 928 992 1,000 992

(2%) (19%) (64%) (93%) (99%) (100%) (99%)

Three 144 493 326 71 8 0 1

(14%) (49%) (33%) (7%) (1%) (0%) (0%)

Four 840 318 36 1 0 0 5

(84%) (32%) (4%) (0%) (0%) (0%) (1%)

*Full information.

Fig. 1. Number of two-party systems as a function of information

Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 327

Fig. 2. Distribution of SF ratios: three parties

Fig. 3. Distribution of SF ratios: four parties

information increases, the spike of the distribution near 0 grows larger, indicating that
co-ordination has improved. These SF ratio distributions support the conclusion drawn
from the number of two-party systems: as the quantity of information increases, so does
In order to test the effects of size of the grid on the results presented, the 8–168 neighbour versions of the
model were run on a 25 ⫻ 25 grid. The increased size of the grid made it impossible to run results for larger
neighbourhood sizes, especially the full information version of the model. While not precisely the same, the results
were very similar, and the basic relationships between the relevant variables still held. This strongly suggests that
the results hold for larger grid sizes (and hence larger populations).

In order to make a number of points about the results of the model, I summarized the
results as three lessons. These lessons are discussed below.

Lesson 1: Duverger’s Law Does Not Always Hold, Even When All Voters Are Voting
Duverger states two explanations for the law he posits: strategic voting and the elimination
of additional parties through lack of support. Using game theory, Cox shows that strategic
voting is sufficient to induce a two-party system in a single-member plurality electoral
system.42 Using a new modelling technique, I have shown that strategic voting does not
always lead to two parties in a SMP system. The results generated by my model
demonstrate that Duverger’s Law may not hold even when all voters are voting
strategically. If voters are poorly informed about the relative placement of candidates, they
may not co-ordinate on two parties.
As mentioned above, the model was run under six informational conditions, in which
voters gather information about the upcoming election from a growing number of people.
In the two settings in which voters have the least information, they have trouble
co-ordinating on two parties. Even by the end of twenty election cycles, two parties do not
always emerge in the eight and twenty-four neighbour cases. As shown in Table 1, when
voters only speak with their eight adjacent neighbours, they co-ordinate on two parties 31
per cent of the time when there are three initial parties, and only 19 per cent of the time
when there are four initial parties. This is also strongly reflected in the SF ratio
distributions: both the SF ratio distribution for three parties (see Figure 2) and four parties
(see Figure 3) and eight neighbours show a nearly uniform distribution, with no obvious
peaks. This very clearly indicates lack of voter co-ordination.
Increasing the number of neighbours to twenty-four improves voter co-ordination
considerably, but there are still a substantial number of cases in which full co-ordination
is not achieved. Referring again to Table 1, when there are three initial parties, voters
co-ordinate in 75 per cent of the trials; with four initial parties, voters co-ordinate in 64
per cent of trials. It is clear that, even with this significant improvement in information,
Duverger’s prediction of a two-party system does not always hold.
It may be reasonably intuitive that without information, voters would not be able to
co-ordinate at all. This intuition, however, would tell us little about what happens
between no information and full information. Do voters need full information to
co-ordinate, or does some smaller quantity of information suffice? How responsive is
co-ordination to information? The model presented here begins to answer these questions,
suggesting that the relationship between information and party system might not be as
simple as it seems.

Lesson 2: Relatively Small Improvements in Information Can Have a Dramatic Effect on

Voters’ Ability to Co-ordinate
Figure 1 shows the number of two-party systems in the final round as a function of the
number of neighbours. Table 1 presents the same information in tabular form. A number
of things become clear from these charts. First, some information is better than no

Cox, Making Votes Count.
Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 329

information. Even when voters only collect information from eight other people in the
simulation, they are much more likely to co-ordinate than if they have no information.
When there are three initial parties, talking to just eight neighbours increases the percentage
of two-party systems in the final round from 5 per cent to 31 per cent; in the four initial
parties case, talking to eight neighbours produces a shift from 2 per cent to 19 per cent.43
While most systems are not reduced to two parties by the final round when there are eight
neighbours, it is interesting that even some do, given that the information levels are so low.
What are perhaps even more remarkable are the further shifts that happen when the number
of neighbours is increased to twenty-four and forty-eight neighbours. As seen in Table 1,
when there are only three initial parties, the shift from eight neighbours to twenty-four
neighbours more than doubled the percentage of two-party systems in the last round, going
from 31 per cent to 75 per cent. Shifting from twenty-four to forty-eight neighbours further
increases the number of two-party systems to 94 per cent.44 When there are four initial
parties, a similar pattern exists: moving from eight neighbours to twenty-four produces a
more than three-fold increase to 64 per cent. Increasing neighbourhood size to forty-eight
neighbours produces an increase to 93 per cent.45 Increases in information beyond this do
not increase the number of two-party systems. From forty-eight neighbours to 168
neighbours, almost all simulations end in a two-party system.46
These increases in co-ordination are further reflected in the SF ratio distribution charts.
In the SF ratio distribution for three parties and eight neighbours (see Figure 2), there is
a mode at 0, but it is quite small and the distribution seems fairly uniform overall. When
the number of neighbours have increased to twenty-four (see Figure 2), the spike at 0
is pronounced, with a severe drop off for higher values. The results for four parties are
similar: the SF ratio distribution for four parties and eight neighbours (see Figure 3) has
a near uniform distribution. When the number of neighbours has been increased to
twenty-four (see Figure 3), it has a mode at 0 that includes over half the cases, with a
drop off afterward. Each of these shifts from a near uniform distribution to a distribution
with a large mode at 0 clearly demonstrates that increasing neighbourhood size from
eight to twenty-four has a serious impact on co-ordination. As with the absolute number
of parties, co-ordination continues to improve with the increase to forty-eight neighbours.
The SF ratio distributions for forty-eight neighbours and three and four parties (see Figures
2 and 3), have modes at 0 that contain nearly all cases. At this point, near perfect co-
ordination has been achieved. Not surprisingly, there are not many changes beyond this.
While the graphs are not included here, the distribution of SF ratios for the eighty, 120
and 168 neighbour cases all look very similar to the distribution of SF ratios with
forty-eight neighbours.47
It is important to note that the relationship between information and co-ordination is
clearly non-linear. The effect starts to taper off after forty-eight neighbours, and voters
reach close to full co-ordination at eighty neighbours and remain there as the number
of neighbours is further increased. This is probably due to the similar non-linearity of
the accuracy of the information. If one thinks of the first round of information gathering

Using a two-tailed difference of proportions test, these differences were found to be significant at the 0.01
Once again, these differences are significant at the 0.01 level.
Once again, these differences are significant at the 0.01 level.
When neighbourhood size is 168, voters are talking to the whole community.
In each case the histogram for the SF ratio distribution has a large spike at 0. In addition, the median SF
ratio is 0 for each of these conditions and the average SF ratio is below 0.05.

as polls with very small random samples, the polls of eight would have margins of
error of approximately ⫾ 34 per cent; the polls of twenty-four would have margins of error
of approximately ⫾ 19 per cent; the polls of forty-eight would have margins of
error of approximately ⫾ 12 per cent; the polls of eighty would have margins of error
of approximately ⫾ 8 per cent; the polls of 120 would have margins of error of
approximately ⫾ 5 per cent.48 Because voters’ decisions are made on the basis
of information gathered about the previous round, the accuracy of this early information
ends up being reflected throughout the simulation.
Empirically, this non-linearity suggests that we will not see differences in co-ordination
dependent on information once a certain threshold of information provision has been
reached. While information will prove a useful variable in explaining the differences in
co-ordination between high and low information states, or even between low information
states, it will not prove as useful in explaining differences in co-ordination between states
where a reasonably high level of information is available to voters.

Lesson 3: The More Initial Parties There Are, the More Difficult It Is for Voters to
Co-ordinate Effectively on Two in Low Information Environments
Co-ordination is responsive not just to the amount of information voters have, but also to
the number of initial parties. As is clear from Figure 1 and Table 1, simulations with four
initial parties are significantly less likely to produce two-party systems than simulations
with three initial parties, until the point where voters are communicating with eighty
neighbours. As discussed above, when voters can communicate with eighty or more voters,
they almost always co-ordinate in both the three and four initial parties cases. Again, these
differences are reflected in the SF ratio distributions: Figure 3 shows an almost uniform
distribution for the four initial party simulations with eight neighbours, while Figure 2
shows a slight peak at 0 for the three initial party simulations, indicating that co-ordination
is easier with three parties than with four. While less pronounced in the twenty-four
neighbours case (Figures 2 and 3), the peak at 0 for three parties is higher than that for
four parties, which supports this as well.
This result is particularly interesting because it suggests room for social cleavages to
play a role. If one thinks of the number of social cleavages as being represented by the
number of initial parties, this model suggests the possibility that a greater number of social
cleavages can result in a greater number of competitive parties under conditions of local
information. This suggests that a more divided society may have difficulty co-ordinating
on political parties when information about the distribution of support is limited.


The model presented here demonstrates the importance of considering information when
explaining the number of parties in a political system. I have demonstrated that Duverger’s
Law may not hold if voters have limited access to information. The relationship between
electoral system and party system is dependent on the quantity of information voters
possess. Furthermore, the way in which information mediates the relationship between
electoral system and party system depends on the number of cleavages. Electoral systems
These intervals are calculated using a finite population correction, and the standard errors were estimated
using a proportion of 0.5.
Strategic Voting Under Conditions of Uncertainty 331

and social cleavages have been primary independent variables in explaining the number
of parties in a system. I have shown that not only is information another critical factor,
but also that the effects of electoral systems and social cleavages are mediated by
Focusing on information has the potential to provide explanations for previously
unexplored cases. As mentioned above, India both lacks consistent, accurate polling and
generally has more than two parties at the district level. Recent work by Huelshoff and
Rosemblum shows that Duverger’s Law does not apply in new democracies as it does in
well-developed democracies.49 Given that new democracies could not be expected to have
a well-developed mass media with the ability to produce and disseminate accurate polls,
the results I present in this article may provide an explanation for this discrepancy. Using
information as an independent variable may also help explain changes in the American
party system. As shown by Chhibber and Kollman, third parties were much more likely
to appear in the United States prior to the 1930s.50 Scientific polling started to be a part
of American elections in 1936, when George Gallup began conducting regular polls of the
presidential election. With accurate polling information available to them, individuals may
have stopped choosing to vote for candidates who were quite clearly unable to win
The importance of understanding the conditions necessary for sustaining third parties
cannot be underestimated. Minor-party support can be seen as a deterrent to stability in
many democracies. Lack of ability to co-ordinate on two parties can mean keeping a party
in office even when it has lost a great deal of support. Third-party support has also had
an impact on party-system development in America. Major electoral realignments
occurred throughout American history at approximately 25–30 year intervals.51 Most were
preceded by the rise of a third-party movement that was able to gain a noticeable quantity
of support; in some cases, this party even replaced an existing one. The last realignment
occurred during the 1930s. This was also the period during which polling was becoming
more frequent and reputable. It is probable that changes in informational conditions
affected third parties’ abilities to gain support; this, in turn, may have affected the dynamic
of realignment. While there were certainly a great number of political changes that also
occurred during this period and had an impact on the end of realignment, the change in
informational conditions is one that has never been explored.
Focusing on the importance of information in shaping party systems also allows us to
consider the nature, as well as the quantity of information available to individuals. For
instance, in an extension of the work discussed here I compare strategic voting among those
who have access to information from a group with similar political beliefs as their own,
and those who have access to information from a group with a diversity of political beliefs.
I find interesting differences between these two conditions, lending further insight to
discussions about homogeneous and heterogeneous political discussion networks.
Voter co-ordination is dependent on voter information, changing as voters increase or
decrease the quality of their information about the relative standing of candidates. Given
the considerable variation in informational conditions existing both historically and

Michael Huelshoff and Marc Rosenblum, ‘Determinants of Party Systems: Comparing Established and New
Democracies’, paper presented at the Midwest Political Science Association Annual Meeting, April 2005.
Chhibber and Kollman, The Formation of National Party Systems.
James Sundquist, Dynamics of the Party System: Alignment and Realignment of Political Parties in the
United States (Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1986).

cross-culturally, this is a finding of significance. It strongly suggests that if researchers

want to explain the number of parties in a system, they must take into account the kind
of information voters have access to, as well as more traditional factors. Party systems
frequently exist where there is no public information about the relative standing of
candidates. Until now there has been no model for exploring what might happen with
respect to strategic voting under these kinds of circumstances. The model presented in this
article is meant to be a first step towards understanding various informational conditions.
More work needs to be done, but this model provides a way of thinking about how future
work might proceed.