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Social utility efficiency

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Efficiency of several voting systems with an impartial culture model and 25 voters[1]

Social utility efficiency (SUE) is a measurement of the utilitarian performance of voting methods—how likely they are to elect the candidate who best represents the voters' preferences.[2]

It is also known as utilitarian efficiency,[3][4] voter satisfaction index (VSI)[5][6] or voter satisfaction efficiency (VSE).[7][8]


Social utility efficiency is defined as the ratio between the social utility of the candidate who is actually elected by a given voting method and that of the candidate who would maximize social utility, where is the expected value over many iterations of the sum of all voter utilities for a given candidate:[9]

A voting method with 100% efficiency would always pick the candidate that maximizes voter utility. A method that chooses a winner randomly would have efficiency of 0%, and a (pathological) method that did worse than a random pick would have less than 0% efficiency.

SUE is not only affected by the voting method, but is a function of the number of voters, number of candidates, and of any strategies used by the voters.[1]


The concept was originally introduced as a system's "effectiveness" by Robert J. Weber in 1977, defined as:[2]

Where is the expected social utility of the given candidate, is the number of voters, and is the number of candidates. He used a random society (impartial culture) model to analytically calculate the effectiveness of FPTP, two Approval variants, and Borda, as the number of voters approaches infinity.

It was given the name "social utility efficiency" and extended to the more realistic spatial model of voting by Samuel Merrill III[1] in the 1980s, calculated statistically from random samples, with 25–201 voters and 2–10 candidates.[10] This analysis included FPTP, Runoff, IRV, Coombs, Approval, Black, and Borda (in increasing order of efficiency). (Merrill's model normalizes individual voter utility before finding the utility winner, while Weber's does not, so that Merrill considers all 2-candidate voting systems to have an SUE of 100%, decreasing with more candidates, while Weber considers them to have an effectiveness of = 81.6%, with some systems increasing with more candidates.)

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Merrill, Samuel (1984). "A Comparison of Efficiency of Multicandidate Electoral Systems". American Journal of Political Science. 28 (1): 23–48. doi:10.2307/2110786. ISSN 0092-5853. JSTOR 2110786.
  2. ^ a b Weber, Robert J. (September 1978). "Comparison of Public Choice Systems". Cowles Foundation Discussion Papers. Cowles Foundation for Research in Economics: 16, 38, 62. No. 498.
  3. ^ Mueller, Dennis C. (2003). Public choice III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-511-06504-3. OCLC 191952945.
  4. ^ Duddy, Conal (2017). "Geometry of run-off elections". Public Choice. 173 (3–4): 267–288. doi:10.1007/s11127-017-0476-2. ISSN 0048-5829. S2CID 254935333.
  5. ^ Shentrup, Clay (2007-07-07). "Voter Satisfaction Index". Center for Range Voting. Retrieved 2019-07-24. Voter satisfaction index, or "VSI" for short (also called "social utility efficiency" ... a lower number is actually better, and this can confuse people who are new to the concept. ... the utility units have an arbitrary magnitude, making it difficult to compare Bayesian regret figures
  6. ^ Huang, John (January 11, 2020). "Alternative Voting Methods — How well do they perform in the best case?". Americans for Representation. Retrieved 2021-01-31. For this blog post, I'm going to stick with something called "Voter Satisfaction Index".
  7. ^ Quinn, Jameson (2017-02-10). "Voter Satisfaction Efficiency FAQ". GitHub Pages. Retrieved 2019-07-24.
  8. ^ Wolk, Sara; Quinn, Jameson; Ogren, Marcus (2023-03-20). "STAR Voting, equality of voice, and voter satisfaction: considerations for voting method reform". Constitutional Political Economy. 34 (3): 310–334. doi:10.1007/s10602-022-09389-3. ISSN 1043-4062. S2CID 257653868.
  9. ^ Merrill, Samuel (2014-07-14). Making Multicandidate Elections More Democratic. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9781400859504. If the ratings are interpreted as Von Neumann-Morgenstern utilities … I define the social utility of a candidate as the sum of all voter utilities for that candidate.
  10. ^ Merrill, Samuel (1984). "A Comparison of Efficiency of Multicandidate Electoral Systems". American Journal of Political Science. 28 (1): 23–48. doi:10.2307/2110786. ISSN 0092-5853. JSTOR 2110786.