Social choice theory, game theory, and positive political theory

David Austen-Smith*, Jeffrey S. Banks

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

46 Scopus citations


We consider the relationships between the collective preference and non-cooperative game theory approaches to positive political theory. In particular, we show that an apparently decisive difference between the two approaches -that in sufficiently complex environments (e.g. high-dimensional choice spaces) direct preference aggregation models are incapable of generating any prediction at all, whereas non-cooperative game-theoretic models almost always generate prediction - is indeed only an apparent difference. More generally, we argue that when modeling collective decisions there is a fundamental tension between insuring existence of well-defined predictions, a criterion of minimal democracy, and general applicability to complex environments; while any two of the three are compatible under either approach, neither collective preference nor non-cooperative game theory can support models that simultaneously satisfy all three desiderata.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)259-287
Number of pages29
JournalAnnual Review of Political Science
StatePublished - 1998


  • Core existence
  • Minimal democracy
  • Nash equilibrium

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science


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