NORMAN, Okla., 5:50 p.m. — Considering what many voters perceive as the often disingenuous, self-interested and intricate nature of modern political campaigns, it is no surprise that game theorists — those who study strategic interactions between agents — have turned to American politics as a field ripe with opportunities for analysis.
Yale’s own Justin Fox, a professor in the Political Science Department, applies microeconomics to his study of the interactions between politicians and voter behavior. In a phone interview with the News on Monday, he illuminated some of the more interesting applications of game theory in the current campaign season.
Fox started by explaining the role of fundraising and interest groups in politicians’ stands on major issues. A typical academic paper may explain how politicians find it in their interest to alter their positions in order to attract more money, he said.
“There may not be any explicit corruption going on, but … the fundraising is distorting how politicians behave,” Fox said.
So, according to game theory, it is demonstrably rational to alter one’s behavior in order to bring in more money. But what role does public opinion play? What about politicians like Mitt Romney, who has been accused of changing his positions to make himself more palatable to the Republican electorate?
“I think people see through it, right? I think that’s why he has trouble getting traction —it’s too obvious,” Fox said. “Giuliani’s sort of doing the same thing, but I think it looks less artificial. I don’t think there’s any good data on whether public opinion is a stronger determinant of a candidate’s position than the ability to raise campaign funds. Candidates are going to face tradeoffs when balancing these two goals.”