Preference Functions That Score Rankings and Maximum Likelihood Estimation
In social choice, a preference function (PF) takes a set of votes (linear orders over a set of alternatives) as input, and produces one or more rankings (also linear orders over the alternatives) as output. Such functions have many applications, for example, aggregating the preferences of multiple agents, or merging rankings (of, say, webpages) into a single ranking. The key issue is choosing a PF to use. One natural and previously studied approach is to assume that there is an unobserved "correct" ranking, and the votes are noisy estimates of this. Then, we can use the PF that always chooses the maximum likelihood estimate (MLE) of the correct ranking. In this paper, we define simple ranking scoring functions (SRSFs) and show that the class of neutral SRSFs is exactly the class of neutral PFs that are MLEs for some noise model. We also define composite ranking scoring functions (CRSFs) and show a condition under which these coincide with SRSFs. We study key properties such as consistency and continuity, and consider some example PFs. In particular, we study Single Transferable Vote (STV), a commonly used PF, showing that it is a CRSF but not an SRSF, thereby clarifying the extent to which it is an MLE function. This also gives a new perspective on how ties should be broken under STV. We leave some open questions.
Vincent Conitzer, Matthew Rognlie, Lirong Xia