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It’s the Votes that Do It: How the Next Pope Will be Elected

- March 12, 2013

In modern times, the College of Cardinals have been locked in the Sistine Chapel with the purported aim to divine the Will of God in the election of the Pope. Between 20 and 60 percent of cardinals vote for the same candidate throughout the conclave, depending on the length of the conclave. For those cardinals that change their voting behavior, they are influenced by both the vote counts and the nightly conversations. However, in unifying the cardinals to one winner the dominant force is the observed vote counts.

This is the abstract of a fascinating 2004 paper by econometrician J.T. Toman of the University of Sydney. If you are looking for a history of papal elections and/or an analysis of papal voting patterns, I highly recommend this. Here’s one highlight, estimates of sincere and strategic voting by rounds in modern papal elections:

Also, if you’ve ever wondered how an econometrician would discuss religion, you can’t miss this paragraph on p.13:

Finally, as is seen by the uneven voting activity among the cardinals, there is unobservable heterogeneity among the cardinals that is constant across time. Only a select subset are considered serious contenders for the position of the Papacy. One interpretation is that this is the Word of God. The voters do not perceive the cardinals as equal candidates. More cynically, one might argue that the differences observed are the result of the pre-conclave maneuverings. However, why would the effects of these be constant over time? We could expect these effect to die off after the observations of the first vote count. However, as God is omnipresent and all-knowing, having His effect to be constant over time is less of a surprise. Either way, this unobservable heterogeneity is accounted for in the estimation process through the inclusion of fixed effects parameters.

[h/t to Adam Ramey]