Working paper

Ideological Perfectionism

Daniel L. Chen, Moti Michaeli, and Daniel Spiro


Studying a high-stakes field setting, we examine which individuals, on an ideological scale, conform more to the opinion of others. In the U.S. Courts of Appeals, legal precedents are set by ideologically diverse and randomly composed panels of judges. Using exogenous predictors of ideology and rich voting data we show that ideological disagreements drive dissents against the panel’s decision, but ideologically extreme judges are caving in: they are the least likely to dissent and their voting records are the least correlated with their predicted ideology. Meanwhile, moderately ideological judges are dissenting the most despite evidence that they are more often determining the opinion. Our theoretical analysis shows that these findings are most consistent with a model of decision making in the presence of peer pressure with a concave cost of deviating from one’s ideological convictions – perfectionism. This result presents a critique of a standard assumption in economics – that the cost of deviating from one’s bliss point is convex – with fundamental implications for decision making in social and political settings and for the empirical predictions of theoretical models in these domains.


Judicial decision making; group decision making; ideology; peer pressure;

JEL codes

  • D7: Analysis of Collective Decision-Making
  • K00: General
  • Z1: Cultural Economics • Economic Sociology • Economic Anthropology


Daniel L. Chen, Moti Michaeli, and Daniel Spiro, Ideological Perfectionism, TSE Working Paper, n. 16-694, September 2016.

See also

Published in

TSE Working Paper, n. 16-694, September 2016