POLI 102G: Politics, Puzzles, and Games

Fall 2007

Monday, Wednesday, Friday 12:00pm – 12:50pm

University Center 413, Room 2


Prof: James Fowler,  SSB 383

Office Hours: Monday 1pm – 3pm or by appointment


Course description

            Politics is about strategic interaction.  When political actors make choices about voting for a candidate, running for office, passing a law, or going to war, they usually take into account the likely responses and actions of others.  This course introduces formal theory as a technique for analyzing strategic interactions.  The principles of decision theory and game theory are introduced and illustrated with examples drawn from politics.  You will play several simple games to learn about how people actually react under similar situations.  The logic of strategic interaction and techniques of game theory developed in this class are useful for thinking about politics but they also have wide applications to other fields and your own everyday life. 


Background texts

Two texts may help you keep up with some of the game theory and formal theory references:

Dixit, Avinash and Susan Skeath.  2004. Games of Strategy.  New York: Norton, second edition

Shepsle, Kenneth and Mark S. Bonchek.  1997.  Analyzing Politics. New York: Norton.


The books should be available at the University book store, but they can be acquired online much more cheaply.  (Try for a comparison of multiple new and used book stores).



Your evaluation will depend on your understanding of basic formal theory, game experiments, and your ability to apply them to problems in political science.  Your grade for this course will depend on four components:


1. Attendance and Participation

With the exception of our first course meeting, you should plan to do all of the readings prior to the class for which they are assigned.  While this component is not graded, experience shows that it is highly correlated with exam performance. Some lecture topics will be in addition to material in the readings.


2. Weekly Reactions to Reading (40%)

You will be required to email a three-sentence summary of each reading assigned for the coming week.  Please put POLI 102G in the subject heading.  Plain text, please, no pdf or word-processed versions.  It is due each Friday at 5:00pm.  You also have the opportunity to ask me to address something in class that youŐd like to have clarified (but this is not required).  This is graded pass-fail – I am just checking to make sure you are keeping up with the reading.


3. Midterm Exam (10%)

I will hand out a cumulative take-home midterm exam on November 7.  You should bring your typed answers to my mailbox in the political science department due at 3:00pm on November 8.


4. Final Exam (50%)

I will hand out a cumulative take-home final exam on December 5.  You should bring your typed answers to my mailbox in the political science department due at 3:00pm on December 6.



I do not grant permission to add this course (PTAs).


I will only give incompletes for compelling, unanticipated, and nonacademic reasons.  Late assignments will be marked down the equivalent of a full letter grade for each 24 hour period in which they are late.  I will only make an exception to this policy if 1) you contact me in writing a week in advance to discuss a conflict, or 2) you provide documentation of a severe illness or family emergency that prevented you from completing the assignment on time.



Tentative Schedule of Topics


Week 1

Rationality, equilibrium, backwards induction, and the centipede game

Herbert Simon, 1995, Rationality In Political Behavior.  Political Psychology 16 (1): 45-61 Mar 1995


Expected utility theory and the paradox of turnout

John Aldrich, Rational Choice and Turnout. American Journal of Political Science Vol. 37, No. 1, 246-278. Feb., 1993.

Blais A, Young R.  Why do people vote? An experiment in rationality. Public Choice 99 (1-2): 39-55 APR 1999


Week 2


McDermott.  2002.  Experimental Methodology in Political Science.  Political Analysis 10(4):325-342.

Wantchekon. 2003. Clientelism and Voting Behavior: A Field Experiment in Benin. World Politics 55.3 (2003) 399-422

Nickerson, David W. 2008. Is Voting Contagious? Evidence from Two Field Experiments, American Political Science Review 102(Feb).


Week 3

Altruism, the dictator game, and voting

Edlin, A. and Gelman, A. and Kaplan, N.  2007.  Voting as a Rational Choice: Why and How People Vote to Improve the Well-Being of Others.  Rationality and Society.


Fowler, James H.  Altruism and Turnout, Journal of Politics 68 (3): 674-683 (August 2006)

Fowler, James H. and Cindy D. Kam Beyond the Self: Altruism, Social Identity, and Political Participation, Journal of Politics 69 (3):811-825 (August 2007)

Andreoni, J and Miller, J. Giving According to GARP.  Econometrica 70(2): 737-753 (2002).

Dawes, Christopher T. and James H. Fowler Social Preferences and Political Participation

Kam, Cindy D., Skyler J. Cranmer, and James H. Fowler When ItŐs Not All About Me: Altruism, Participation, and Political Context


Week 4

Marginal utility and the St. Petersburg paradox

Samuelson, Paul A.  St. Petersburg Paradoxes: Defanged, Dissected, and Historically Described.  Journal of Economic Literature, Vol. 15, No. 1. (Mar., 1977), pp. 24-55.


Discount factors and the choice game

Fowler, James H. and Cindy D. Kam  Patience as a Political Virtue: Delayed Gratification and Turnout, Political Behavior 28 (2): 113-128 (June 2006)


Risk, prospect theory, and the Allais and Ellsburg paradoxes

Rose McDermott, James H. Fowler, and Oleg Smirnov On the Origin of Prospect Theory Preferences, Journal of Politics (April 2008)


Coordination, the flat tire game, and the battle of the sexes game

Weingast, Barry R.  The Political Foundations of Democracy and the Rule of Law  American Political Science Review, Vol. 91, No. 2. (Jun., 1997), pp. 245-263.


Deterrence, the chicken game, and the assurance game

Snidal, Duncan.  Relative Gains and the Pattern of International Cooperation.  American Political Science Review, Vol. 85, No. 3. (Sep., 1991), pp. 701-726.


Week 5

The public goods game, the random income game, and the collective action problem

Elinor Ostrom.  A Behavioral Approach to the Rational Choice Theory of Collective Action: Presidential Address, American Political Science Association, 1997.  American Political Science Review 92:1. (Mar., 1998), pp. 1-22.

Fowler, James H.  Altruistic Punishment and the Origin of Cooperation, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 102 (19): 7047-7049 (May 10 2005)

Ernst Fehr and Simon Gaechter Altruistic Punishment in Humans. Nature 415, 137-140 (10 January 2002)

James H. Fowler, Tim Johnson and Oleg Smirnov.  Egalitarian Motives May Underlie Altruistic Punishment, Nature 433 (06 January 2005)

Christopher Dawes, James H. Fowler, Richard McElreath, Oleg Smirnov, and Tim Johnson  Egalitarian Motives in Humans Nature 446: 794-796 (12 April 2007)

Christopher Dawes, James H. Fowler, Richard McElreath, Oleg Smirnov, and Tim Johnson  The Role of Egalitarian Motives in Altruistic Punishment.

Christopher Dawes, James H. Fowler, Richard McElreath, Oleg Smirnov, and Tim Johnson  The Behavioral Logic of Collective Action: Partisans Cooperate and Punish More Than Non-Partisans


Week 6

Cooperation, the prisoner's dilemma, and the trust game

Berg, Joyce, Dickhaut, John and McCabe, Kevin.  Trust, Reciprocity, and Social History.  Games and Economic Behavior Volume 10, Issue 1, July 1995, Pages 122-142

Robert Axelrod, More Effective Choice in the Prisoner's Dilemma,  Journal of Conflict Resolution, Vol. 24, No. 3. (Sep., 1980), pp. 379-403.


Bargaining, the ultimatum game, and wars of attrition

Joseph Henrich; Robert Boyd; Samuel Bowles; Colin Camerer; Ernst Fehr; Herbert Gintis; Richard McElreath.  In Search of Homo Economicus: Behavioral Experiments in 15 Small-Scale Societies.  American Economic Review, Vol. 91, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Hundred Thirteenth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association. (May, 2001), pp. 73-78.

John R. Hibbing, John R. Alford (2004) Accepting Authoritative Decisions: Humans as Wary Cooperators. American Journal of Political Science 48 (1), 62–76.


Week 7

Median voters, cycling, chaos, and party competition games

Rebecca B. Morton, Incomplete Information and Ideological Explanations of Platform Divergence, The American Political Science Review, Vol. 87, No. 2. (Jun., 1993), pp. 382-392.

Michael Laver, Policy and Dynamics of Political Competition, American Political Science Review , 99:2 (May 2005) 263-281


Fowler, James H. and Michael Laver A Tournament of Party Decision Rules, Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming (tentatively February or April 2008)


Week 8



Week 9

Learning, BayesŐ rule, and the beauty contest game

Fowler, James H. and Oleg Smirnov Policy-Motivated Parties in Dynamic Political Competition Journal of Theoretical Politics 19 (1): 9-31 (January 2007)

Dynamic Responsiveness in the U.S. Senate, American Journal of Political Science 49 (2): 299-312 (April 2005)

Dynamic Parties and Social Turnout (with Oleg Smirnov), American Journal of Sociology 110 (4): 1070-1094 (January 2005)

Jonathan Bendor, Daniel Diermeier, and Michael Ting.  A Behavioral Model of Turnout.  American Political Science Review (2003), 97: 261-280

James H. Fowler Habitual Voting and Behavioral Turnout, Journal of Politics 68 (2): 335-344 (May 2006)


Week 10

How games have shaped our genes

James H. Fowler, Laura A. Baker and Christopher T. Dawes  The Genetic Basis of Political Participation

David Cesarini, Christopher T. Dawes, James H. Fowler, The Genetic Basis of Trust and Cooperation (will be sent by email)

Christopher T. Dawes and James H. Fowler Two Genes and Voter Turnout (will be sent by email)