Would democracies work better if politicians were selected at random?

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Democracies are built are the idea of citizens selecting their representatives in government, but what if we chose some of our politicians at random? We'd certainly cut down on those obnoxious political ads and robo-calls, and, according to a new study, our governments might actually run more efficiently.

In a paper, "Accidental Politicians: How Randomly Selected Legislators Can Improve Parliament Efficiency" published in the journal Physica A, five researchers from Sicily's University of Catania assert that modern two-party legislatures would work more efficiently if some — but not all — of the members were selected randomly (by sortition) rather than by election. The researchers created a model for how modern parliaments operate, giving their hypothetical legislators the ability to cast votes based on advancement of their own personal interests or the advancement of the interests of society as a whole. For legislators who had been elected with the help of a political party — rather than chosen at random — their personal interest in pleasing the party in exchange for their support in reelection was one of the interests weighed. The researchers found that, in terms of both the number of laws passed and the average social welfare achieved, a combination of elected and selected legislators was most efficient.

This is just one prototypical model, of course, and it only accounts for a two-party, unicameral legislature, and it's not clear whether the researchers took into account a selected legislator's preference for a particular political party independent of that party's aid in their selection. Still, it introduces some interesting questions about the way representative governments currently operate, and whether these systems could use some tweaking.


Although some would argue that random selection is anathema to the very notion of democracy, sortition has clear historical roots. In fact, the paper notes that Athenian democracy utilized both election and sortition in addition to direct democracy. And, after the December stalemate in the US legislature threatened to shut down the federal government, a little freedom from party politics sounds especially appealing.

Photo by bridges&balloons.

Improbable research: why random selection of MPs may be best [The Guardian]