An Experimental Investigation of Electoral Delegation and the Provision of Public Goods


  • Authors’ names are deliberately alphabetical. Thanks to Rachel Croson, Sean Gailmard, Sanford Gordon, participants at the 2008 Midwest Political Science Association conference, the 2008 North American Economic Science Association Meetings, the 2008 American Political Science Association conference, the 2010 NYU Conference on Experimental Political Science, and to seminar participants at several locations for valuable comments and suggestions. Much of this research was conducted while the authors were at Carnegie Mellon University. Jonathan Woon thanks the Berkman Faculty Development Fund at Carnegie Mellon University for financial support of the project. We also thank the Pittsburgh Experimental Economics Laboratory (PEEL) at the University of Pittsburgh for access to laboratory resources, and we gratefully acknowledge support from the research priority program at the University of Zurich “Foundations of Human Social Behavior.” Replication data can be found at

John R. Hamman is Assistant Professor of Economics, Florida State University, 113 Collegiate Loop, Tallahassee, FL 32306–2180 ( Roberto A. Weber is Professor of Economics, Department of Economics, University of Zurich, Blümlisalpstrasse 10, CH–8006 Zürich, Switzerland ( Jonathan Woon is Assistant Professor of Political Science, University of Pittsburgh, 4600 Posvar Hall, Pittsburgh, PA 15260–4481 (


How effectively do democratic institutions provide public goods? Despite the incentives an elected leader has to free ride or impose majority tyranny, our experiment demonstrates that electoral delegation results in full provision of the public good. Analysis of the experimental data suggests that the result is primarily due to electoral selection: groups elect prosocial leaders and replace those who do not implement full contribution outcomes. However, we also observe outcomes in which a minimum winning coalition exploits the contributions of the remaining players. A second experiment demonstrates that when electoral delegation must be endogenously implemented, individuals voluntarily cede authority to an elected agent only when preplay communication is permitted. Our combined results demonstrate that democratic delegation helps groups overcome the free-rider problem and generally leads to outcomes that are often both efficient and equitable.