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Game Theory and the Election

This is one of the craziest elections in recent history. A year and half ago when the election season was just starting no one could have predicated what was to come of the election cycle. It seemed that it was going to be a simple election cycle. It was supposed to be predestined to be a race between two dynasties the Bushes and the Clintons. No one could have predicted the tidal wave effect of Trump or the popular and establishment support he has gotten despite some heavy criticism from every edge of the country. Many people question how so many elected officials whose morals are contrary to Trump’s words and actions could stand with the Donald. According to Economist Tyler Cowen all can be explained with game theory.

Players in a game always have options. In this game politics there game either support Trump and gain perks or rick the ridicule of not endorsing him and alienate a large portion of the Republican Party. According to Cowen, “supporting the party choice was seen as the path to donations, approval from Trump voters and appointments and access in a possible Trump administration.” This was almost the reward for some Republicans holding their noise and making the endorsement. There strategy may help them among their base, but hopes of retaining votes among democrats and moderates were lost. Part of the negatives were that officials are now more easily aligned with Trump in attack adds. The counter strategy is to condemn Trump however this again has many pitfalls. On the net gain smaller senators and congressman can unchain themselves from Trump. On the negative side they are more easily destroyed if it is just one senator at a time condemning Trump. If only one official comes forward they are more open to the power of a national campaign. It is almost as if one sheep strays from a pack they are more vulnerable to the outside. One saw this with Ted Cruz at the Republican convention in which he was booed of stage when he decided that he was looking for 2020 rather than 2016. This calculated guess in the game of politics quickly backfired and he and the voters will surly never forget that day.

Finally, Cowen describes the concept of “collective action problems.” In this problem no one will leave the “Trump Train” unless there is more than one person. Jumping along would be foolish. According to Cowen this is the same idea why North Korean generals do not overthrow Kim Jong-un. In other words if you stage a coupe against the party’s nominee you better have backup and a reason. In summery, this article relates to the content of the course as it takes and applies game theory to the national political level. Who knew that Nash equilibriums could help make sense out of the crazy election cycle that is 2016.


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October 2016