Course Overview

This Course

  • political economy of elections

    • political economy = economics + political science: analyzing politics using tools borrowed from economics
  • in this course, we will look at models (theories) of elections

    • models: (very) simplified description of reality
    • tools: decision theory and game theory (math / econ theory)

Our Goals

  • gather understanding of electoral politics

    • we will do that in theory
  • some questions which we will try to answer

    • how do politicians improve odds of getting elected?
    • when does your vote matter and who should you vote for?
    • big picture: are the current election "rules" good for the society?

Tentative Course Outline

  • Weeks 1-2: theory of decisions and social choice
  • Weeks 3-4: median voter theorem, game theory
  • Week 6: game-theoretic models of electoral (policy) competition
  • Weeks 7-8: how voters learn and why they vote
  • Week 10: non-democracies
  • Weeks 10-12: political advertising campaigns
  • Weeks 13-14: student presentations

Who is the Instructor?

  • Maria Titova, Assistant Professor of Economics and Political Science

    • specialize in political economy and information economics
  • this is my third year at Vanderbilt

  • my background:

    • [2013] BSc in Applied Math and Computer Science from HSE Moscow, Russia
    • [2015] MSc in Financial Economics from HSE Moscow, Russia
    • [2021] PhD in Economics from UC San Diego

Who is the TA?

  • Katherine Parslow, PhD student in Economics
    • specialize in political economy, communication, and information
  • this is my second year at Vanderbilt
  • my background:
    • [2021] BSc in economics from Auburn University

How To Do Well in This Course

  • attend lectures and ask questions
    • lectures are self-contained: we learn the tools we need
    • after lectures I will upload lecture notes \(\longleftarrow\) make sure you understand everything
  • come to office hours
  • solve practice problems
  • read the book (not required but very useful)


  • come to lectures
  • if you have questions
    • instructor: \(\text{}\)
      • office hours: 12:30-1:30pm Tuesday in Calhoun 419 or remote
    • TA: \(\text{}\)
      • office hours: 1-12:30pm Monday/Wednesday in Calhoun 413b
  • everything you need will be posted on brightspace
  • the instructional team is here for you

Your Grade

  • 5% attendance
  • 20% Midterm 1 on February 8 (exam review in class on February 8)
  • 20% Midterm 2 on March 7 (exam review in class on March 5)
  • 20% group presentation (last 2 weeks)
  • 35% Final Exam, date in syllabus (exam review in class on April 18)

This Course: Approach

  • goal: understanding politics (causes and mechanisms)
  • issue: political world is complicated; how to begin to understand what is going on?
  • solution: theoretical models of politics
    • represent reality in a simplified way, and focus on the most relevant elements and features of the phenomenon

Theoretical Models of Politics

  • models cannot give a full picture of reality because in reality too much is going on
  • models identify key ingredients of political phenomena
    • key actors involved
    • their objectives
    • strategic choices they are faced with
  • model assumptions lead to conclusions about how/why/when political actors behave

Tools We Will Use

  • decision theory: how individuals make isolated choices
  • game theory: how individuals make strategic/interconnected choices
    • games have 2+ players
    • choices and outcomes depend on other people's choices