An instance of the marriage problem is given by a graph G together with, for each vertex of G, a strict preference order over its neighbors. A matching M of G is popular in the marriage instance if M does not lose a head-to-head election against any matching where vertices are voters. Every stable matching is a min-size popular matching; another subclass of popular matchings that always exist and can be easily computed is the set of dominant matchings. A popular matching M is dominant if M wins the head-to-head election against any larger matching. Thus every dominant matching is a max-size popular matching and it is known that the set of dominant matchings is the linear image of the set of stable matchings in an auxiliary graph. Results from the literature seem to suggest that stable and dominant matchings behave, from a complexity theory point of view, in a very similar manner within the class of popular matchings.
The goal of this paper is to show that indeed there are differences in the tractability of stable and dominant matchings, and to investigate further their importance for popular matchings. First, we show that it is easy to check if all popular matchings are also stable, however it is co-NP-hard to check if all popular matchings are also dominant. Second, we show how some new and recent hardness results on popular matching problems can be deduced from the NP-hardness of certain problems on stable matchings, also studied in this paper, thus showing that stable matchings can be employed not only to show positive results on popular matching (as is known), but also most negative ones. Problems for which we show new hardness results include finding a min-size (resp. max-size) popular matching that is not stable (resp. dominant). A known result for which we give a new and simple proof is the NP-hardness of finding a popular matching when G is non-bipartite.