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 3-7: game-theoretic models of electoral (policy) competition
  • Weeks 8-9: how voters learn and why they vote
  • 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 first 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?

  • Kayleigh McCrary, PhD student in Economics
    • specialize in political economy and public economics
  • this is my fifth year at Vanderbilt
  • my background:
    • [2017] BA in Economics, BA in Mathematics from Agnes Scott College (Atlanta, Georgia)

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)


  • the instructional team is here for you
    • come to lectures
    • if you have questions
      • instructor: \(\text{}\); OH Thursdays 1-2 PM
      • TA: \(\text{}\); OH Mon 1-2 PM and Wed 2-3 PM
    • everything you need will be posted on brightspace

Your Grade

  • 5\% attendance
  • 20\% Midterm 1 on March 3 (exam review in class on March 1)
  • 20\% Midterm 2 on April 7 (exam review in class on April 5)
  • 20\% group presentation (last 2 weeks)
  • 35\% Final Exam on May 6 (exam review in class on April 28)

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

Elements of Game-Theoretic Modeling

  • who are the players?
  • what can they do?
  • what is the timing of the interaction?
  • what are agents' preferences over the outcomes?
  • what do agents know?

let us review some things before we can formalize answers to these questions