Today Qatar was the surprise winner in the bid to host the FIFA World Cup in 2022, beating Japan, The United States, Australia, and Korea.  It’s an interesting procedure by which the host is decided consisting of multiple rounds of elimination voting.  22 judges cast ballots in a first round.  If no bidder wins a majority of votes then the country with the fewest votes is eliminated and a second round of voting commences.  Voting continues in this way for as many rounds as it takes to produce a majority winner.  (It’s not clear to me what happens if there is a tie in the final round.)

Every voting system has its own weaknesses, but this one is especially problematic giving strong incentives for strategic voting.  Think about how you would vote in an early round when it is unlikely that a majority will be secured. Then, if it matters at all, your vote determines who will be eliminated, not who will win.   If you are confident that your preferred site will survive the first round, then you should not vote truthfully.  Instead you should to keep bids alive that will easier to beat in later rounds.

Can we look at the voting data and identify strategic voting?  As a simple test we could look at revealed preference violations.  For example, if Japan survives round one and a voter switches his vote from Japan to another bidder in round two, then we know that he is voting against his preference in either round one or two.

But that bundles together two distinct types of strategic voting, one more benign than the other.  For if Japan garners only a few votes in the first round but survives, then a true Japan supporter might strategically abandon Japan as a viable candidate and start voting, honestly, for her second choice.  Indeed, that is what seems to have happened after round one.  Here are the data.

We have only vote totals so we can spot strategic voting only if the switches result in a net loss of votes for a surviving candidate.  This happened to Japan but probably for the reasons given above.

The more suspicious switch is the loss of one vote for the round one leader Qatar. One possibility is that a Qatar supporter , seeing Qatar’s survival to round three secured, cast a strategic vote  in round two to choose among the other survivors. But the more likely scenario in my opinion is a strategic vote for Qatar in round one by a voter who, upon learning from the round 1 votes that Qatar was in fact a contender, switched back to voting honestly.