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Game Theory Behind Current Political Discourse

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/the-country-has-lost-its-mind-its-time-for-some-game-theory/2018/06/12/f8863076-6e77-11e8-bd50-b80389a4e569_story.html

Something that became clear over the past few years is how politically divided the country has become. People have begun taking actions and saying things that they wouldn’t have just a few years ago. The article highlights this with an example where a city council member verbally harassed a 14 year old girl who was wearing a Trump shirt. The council member later privately apologized to the girl after a storm was caused on social media. However, the parents were not happy with it and ended up getting the police involved. Then lawyers got involved and a city council meeting was disrupted. And this was not the only example. The article also highlights cases where a TV host called Ivanka Trump the c-word and Robert De Niro directing the f-word at Trump.

These types of interactions can be thought of as the prisoner’s dilemma game. The payoffs would be where if both sides fight and argue with each other they get a negative payoff because both sides alienate some of their potential voters without actually gaining any more support. If only one side fights, the fighting side gets a positive payoff because potentially swayed some voters from the other side. The other side ends up getting a very negative payoff because they lost some of their supporters. The final option is if neither side fights. In this case, they both get a neutral payoff because neither side gained or lost any supporters.

This prisoner’s dilemma game is different from the usual one since this is a continuous game. So the players do not just play the game once, they play it an undetermined number of times in a row. This introduces the idea of a strategy that isn’t just fight. The author proposes the idea that the players are using a tit-for-tat strategy where if one player fights in one round the other player will punish the player by fighting in the next round. However, the author also proposes that the strategy is spiraling out of control because the players have different ideas of what is considered fighting. So one side will take some action that they believe isn’t that bad but the other side sees as an attack. Then that side will retaliate because they think they were attacked. And then the first side won’t understand why they’re being attacked and will also retaliate. Then this cycle will continue. I would propose a different idea. It seems more like that both sides are playing a trigger strategy. This is where a side will cooperate until the other side attacks and then they will only play the attacking strategy. This seems to line up better with reality since, more or less, both sides were cooperating years ago and then Trump can be seen as the first attack. After that both sides have just begun attacking each other with no cooperation.

The obvious question is how do we stop this. The only solution seems to be for one of the sides to initially take the risk of changing strategies and start trying to cooperate. Then they have to hope that the other side will follow suit. However, this seems unlikely to happen without some sort of dramatic event.

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