Party Competition: An Agent-Based Model

Party Competition: An Agent-Based Model

Party Competition: An Agent-Based Model

Party Competition: An Agent-Based Model


Party competition for votes in free and fair elections involves complex interactions by multiple actors in political landscapes that are continuously evolving, yet classical theoretical approaches to the subject leave many important questions unanswered. Here Michael Laver and Ernest Sergenti offer the first comprehensive treatment of party competition using the computational techniques of agent-based modeling. This exciting new technology enables researchers to model competition between several different political parties for the support of voters with widely varying preferences on many different issues. Laver and Sergenti model party competition as a true dynamic process in which political parties rise and fall, a process where different politicians attack the same political problem in very different ways, and where today's political actors, lacking perfect information about the potential consequences of their choices, must constantly adapt their behavior to yesterday's political outcomes.

Party Competition shows how agent-based modeling can be used to accurately reflect how political systems really work. It demonstrates that politicians who are satisfied with relatively modest vote shares often do better at winning votes than rivals who search ceaselessly for higher shares of the vote. It reveals that politicians who pay close attention to their personal preferences when setting party policy often have more success than opponents who focus solely on the preferences of voters, that some politicians have idiosyncratic "valence" advantages that enhance their electability--and much more.


This is a new book on an old SUBJECT: the contest between political parties in regular, free and competitive elections, a contest that underpins most working definitions of representative democracy. Given the vast volume of words already written on this subject, why on earth do we need a new book on it? the answer, in essence, is that we now have access to a new technology that allows us to investigate hoary old intractable problems in exciting new ways. Party competition, as we will see, is a complex dynamic system. Huge advances in information technology, and, more importantly, in programming environments that exploit this, allow us to take the rigorous investigation of this complex system beyond ageold “pencil and paper” techniques of classical formal analyses and into a modern era in which we have access to massive computational power when pencil and paper fail us.

This is not necessarily a good thing. a flawless and elegant classical formal proof can be beautiful to behold. No new technology will ever change this. Its aesthetic beauty, furthermore, is typically the product of formidable intellectual prowess, creativity, and deep insight. Moving beyond sheer intellectual aesthetics, however, into the real world in which we are substantively interested, we face a crucial trade-off. Any theoretical model of the real world is, axiomatically, a simplification of it. Indeed the whole point of modeling is to simplify and generalize rather than merely to describe the world in every minute detail. the key intellectual decision that faces us is how much we should simplify and generalize, and we find ourselves on a continuum. Starting from the complex reality that ultimately fires our interest, we can almost always simplify and generalize our description of this until we have specified our problem in a way that renders it tractable using the most rigorous analytical techniques that are currently at our disposal. As we do this, we progressively gain rigor and lose realism. the typical intellectual dilemma, familiar to every serious scholar, is that rigorous analysis can be disappointingly unrealistic, while realistic descriptions of the parts of the world that interest us can be disappointingly intractable using currently available techniques. Such disappointments are part and parcel of intellectual life.

Nonetheless, intellectual progress does indeed happen. This often happens following the discovery of new technologies and techniques that can be applied to previously intractable old problems. Statistical analysis for the social sciences, for example, has been completely transformed in recent decades by the development of methods that rely on techniques . . .

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