Rational choice theory has typically used either noncooperative game theory or cooperative, social choice theory to model elections, coalition bargaining, the prisoner's dilemma, and so on. This essay concentrates on the ideas of William Riker and Douglass North, both of whom, in very different ways, studied events of the past in an attempt to understand constitutional or institutional transformations. The key notion presented here is the “belief cascade,” a change in the understanding of the members of a society when they face a quandary. This idea is used to critique simple vote-maximizing models of elections, derived from Downs' earlier conception of party competition. Inferences are drawn on the possible applications of rational choice theory to the study of constitutional political economy in order to provide some insight into the differences between democratic polities.


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  • Article Type: Review Article
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