Public versus secret voting in committees


Andrea Mattozzi, Marcos Y. Nakaguma 23 July 2022

Committee determination making is a central characteristic of many political and financial organisations, together with legislative our bodies, authorities companies, central banks, legislation courts, and personal and public corporations. The problems confronted by committees are sometimes multi-faceted and sophisticated, usually involving a wide range of conflicts and personal pursuits. Committee members are often motivated by the need to advance their very own careers and care about being perceived as high-ability decision-makers. Moreover, they usually have totally different competencies or info, in order that it isn’t uncommon to look at conditions the place a few of them abstain when unable to type a agency conviction. 

In response to a pattern in direction of elevated procedural transparency in central banking a variety of research have centered on the results of the transparency of voting procedures on decision-making in committees (e.g. Armstrong et al. 2015, Barwell and Chadha 2014). Certainly, whereas a variety of committees function underneath full transparency, secret voting procedures are additionally frequent, the place solely the ultimate voting end result or the combination variety of votes for every different are noticed. Gersbach and Hahn (2008, 2013) and Levy (2007) present that secret voting could cut back distortions arising from signalling competence. Visser and Swank (2007) present that career-concerns create an incentive for committees to hide inside disagreements and present a united entrance in public. From an empirical perspective, Hansen et al. (2018), Meade and Stasavage (2008a, 2008b), and Swank et al. (2008) exploit the choice of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) to make the transcripts of its conferences publicly accessible to point out that transparency modified the character of deliberation within the committee, reducing considerably dissent amongst members. In an earlier Vox column, Horvath et al. (2011) talk about underneath what circumstances the publishing of voting data enhance the transparency of financial coverage.

There’s ample anecdotal proof displaying that committee members and legislators do behave sharply in a different way underneath public and secret voting. For instance, in November 2013, the Brazilian Congress authorised a constitutional modification that modified the process to be employed in circumstances in regards to the expulsion of congressmen from secret to public voting. The shift from secret to public voting was related to a significant change in voting behaviour with the typical variety of votes in favour of an expulsion virtually doubling. In June 2017, the Italian Parliament voted on a proposal to alter the electoral legislation of certainly one of its districts. The vote was speculated to be secret however, on account of a technical error, all particular person votes have been proven on a big digital show for a couple of seconds as they have been being solid. The error was realised by the chairman of the Home inside six seconds of the start of the vote and, after a couple of extra seconds, the vote was suspended. An inspection of the video recording of the session reveals that no less than 62 members (15% of the full variety of votes) switched their votes in a span of lower than eight seconds. 

In our latest work (Mattozzi and Nakaguma 2022), we research each theoretically and empirically a committee decision-making downside which mixes all parts described above. Particularly, we look at an surroundings the place committee members are biased in direction of totally different options, they’re heterogeneous of their degree of competence, they care about their popularity for competence, they usually could vote or abstain. In such a context, we examine how the selection between secret and public voting impacts the voting behaviour of members and the standard of committee selections. 

A easy framework

Think about a collective decision-making mannequin the place a committee should take a choice over a binary agenda by easy majority, and members can vote for both different or abstain. The payoff of a committee member is dependent upon three elements: (1) a standard worth i.e. whether or not the committee takes the ‘appropriate’ determination; (2) a personal worth i.e. whether or not the choice matches the member’s bias; and (3) a career-concern, i.e. the ex-post perceived competence of the member. Competence and bias are non-public info. Moreover, underneath public voting the person votes of all committee members are noticed, whereas underneath secret voting solely the combination variety of votes for every different are noticed.1

On this framework, competent members are knowledgeable, they know what the right determination is, in order that transparency creates an incentive for them to vote for it as an alternative of following their non-public pursuits. Conversely, incompetent members are uniformed about which different is appropriate, in order that transparency merely creates an incentive for them to vote, both for his or her biases or for the ex-ante extra probably different, despite the fact that they’d have in any other case most well-liked to abstain. The truth is, within the absence of profession issues and offered that the frequent worth is sufficiently giant, it’s optimum for incompetent members to abstain, since by doing in order that they delegate the choice to the competent members, as within the ‘swing voter’s curse’ of Feddersen and Pesendorfer (1996). Within the presence of career-concerns, nevertheless, such behaviour impacts perceived competence negatively, since abstentions could be interpreted as an indication of incompetence in equilibrium. 

Theoretical outcomes

The mannequin means that voting needs to be public in committees the place members are extremely influenced by ideological or self-interested motives equivalent to congressional committees. Conversely, voting needs to be stored secret when the dissent amongst members on account of particular person biases is comparatively small, as it’s maybe the case of committees of consultants and high bureaucrats accountable for technical selections. In a model of the mannequin the place we permit for a behind closed-doors deliberation previous to the voting stage, we present that the extent of transparency induces a trade-off between the standard of data aggregation on the deliberation stage and the standard of selections on the voting stage. 

Provided that the selection between secret and public voting is commonly endogenous to the composition of the committee in addition to to the kind of determination being taken, it’s troublesome to isolate the impression of transparency on voting outcomes utilizing non-experimental information. A lab experiment permits us to gather info on particular person voting behaviour and evaluate the standard of the choices made underneath public and secret voting whereas controlling for the extent of competence and the biases of committee members. 

Experimental design 

We take into account committees of three members with a uniform prior and a symmetric distribution of biases and competence. We amend our fundamental setup by assuming that the career-concern rewards related to an accurate vote are exogenously given underneath each public and secret voting. This simplification maintains all fundamental options of the unique mannequin, besides that we are actually modelling career-concerns in a diminished type style. By doing so, we restrict consideration to testing particular person and collective voting behaviour, taking the method of firm of popularity as given, as an alternative of getting human topics concerned on this computation. We implement a two-by-two design the place we fluctuate the magnitude of the bias (low or excessive) and the dimensions of the career-concern rewards related to an accurate vote, which is low underneath secret voting and excessive underneath public voting.2 Our research focuses on a parametrisation such {that a} change within the degree of transparency could result in a change in equilibrium voting behaviour. Moreover, for the reason that theoretical mannequin options a number of equilibria with totally different info aggregation properties, a laboratory experiment may help informing whether or not topics coordinate on a specific class of equilibrium. 

Experimental outcomes

Desk 1 studies the proportion of appropriate selections underneath every therapy for each the complete pattern and a subsample contemplating solely the final 5 rounds (repetitions) of every experimental session. Within the final column, we additionally report the fraction of appropriate selections predicted to carry in equilibrium underneath every therapy in line with our mannequin. Constantly with the comparative static predictions of the mannequin, underneath ‘low bias’ remedies the standard of selections is bigger underneath ‘secret voting’ than ‘public voting’, whereas underneath ‘excessive bias’ remedies the fraction of appropriate selections is considerably bigger underneath ‘public voting’ than ‘secret voting’.

Desk 1

Notes: This desk studies the proportion of appropriate selections noticed underneath every therapy in each the complete pattern and in a subsample contemplating solely the final 5 rounds of every session. The final column studies the fraction of appropriate selections predicted to carry in equilibrium in line with the mannequin.

Determine 1 summarises the person behaviour of knowledgeable and uninformed topics (i.e. competent and incompetent members within the theoretical framework). Constantly with the predictions of the mannequin, we discover that: (i) underneath ‘excessive bias’ remedies, the proportion of knowledgeable topics who vote accurately is considerably bigger underneath ‘public voting’ (panel A), whereas (ii) underneath ‘low bias’ remedies, the proportion of uninformed topics who abstain is considerably bigger underneath ‘secret voting’ (panel B). Moreover, in remedies the place there are a number of equilibria, a considerable fraction of topics coordinates on the environment friendly equilibrium. 

Determine 1


Our evaluation identifies each theoretically and experimentally a novel trade-off: transparency of particular person votes attenuates the pre-existing biases of competent members and exacerbates the biases of incompetent members. Moreover, public voting results in higher selections when the magnitude of the bias is giant, whereas secret voting performs higher in any other case.


Armstrong, A,  F Caselli, J Chadha and W den Haan (2015), “Transparency and the effectiveness of financial coverage”,, 17 March. 

Barwell, R and J Chadha (2014), “Publish or be damned – or why central banks have to say extra concerning the path of their coverage charges”,, 31 August.

Feddersen, T and W Pesendorfer (1996), “The Swing Voter’s Curse”, American Financial Assessment 86(3): 408-24.

Fehrler, S and N Hughes (2018), “How Transparency Kills Info Aggregation: Concept and Experiments”, American Financial Journal: Microeconomics 10(1): 181-209.

Gersbach, H and V Hahn (2008), “Ought to the Particular person Voting Information of Central Bankers be Printed?”, Social Selection and Welfare 30: 655-83.

Gersbach, H and V Hahn (2013), “Ought to ECB minutes be printed?”,, 7 October.

Hansen, S, M McMahon and A Prat (2018), “Transparency and Deliberation Inside the FOMC: A Computational Linguistics Strategy”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 133(2): 801–870.

Horváth, R, J Zapal and Ok Šmídková (2011), “Central banks’ voting data and future coverage”,, 13 November. 

Levy, G (2007), “Resolution Making in Committees: Transparency, Status and Voting Guidelines”, American Financial Assessment 97(1): 150-68.

Mattozzi, A and M Nakaguma (2022), “Public versus Secret Voting in Committees”, accepted for the Journal of the European Financial Affiliation.

Meade, E and D Stasavage (2008a), “The price of central financial institution transparency: Closed doorways, open minds?”,, 26 June.

Meade, E and D Stasavage (2008b), “The Risks of Elevated Transparency in Financial Policymaking”, Financial Journal 118(528): 695-717.

Meloso, D, S Nunnari and M Ottaviani (2022), “Trying into Crystal Balls: A Laboratory Experiment on Reputational Low-cost Speak”, Mimeo.

Swank, J, H Swank and B Visser (2008), “How Committees of Consultants Work together with the Outdoors World: Some Concept and Proof from the FOMC”, Journal of the European Financial Affiliation 6(2): 478-86.

Swank, O and B Visser (2007), “On Committees of Consultants”, Quarterly Journal of Economics 122(1): 337-72.


1 We prolong the mannequin to think about an alternate setting the place solely the ultimate determination is noticed underneath secret voting. On this case, career-concerns develop into instantly tied to the standard of committee’s selections, in order that incompetent members have extra incentive to abstain.

2 Each Fehrler and Hughes (2018) and Meloso et al. (2022) discover that experimental topics have a tough time updating beliefs accurately within the lab.



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