Course Description

How can a candidate in a political race win the majority of votes yet lose the election? How can constituents from underrepresented communities comprise almost half the electorate in a district yet have no representation in the legislature? How does the shape of a voting district affect who its inhabitants elect? Can we measure and quantify the power the President of the United States has? How can two competing candidates interpret the same statistic as being in their favor? What is cryptography and what does it have to do with privacy and law enforcement?

In this class, we will look at the mathematics behind questions such as these that arise from and have bearing on politics. We will study topics such as correlation and causation, fairness, apportionment, conflict, social choice, and game theory through the prism of mathematics. Some of the particular topics we will look at are advantages and disadvantages of various voting practices, paradoxes that arise from common voting systems, basic problems of game theory and their manifestations in politics, geometry behind gerrymandering, regulation of cryptography and repercussions on privacy, graph theory and voter manipulation, and data interpretation.

The goal of this class is to illustrate the importance of rigorous reasoning in various political processes while providing an introduction to some fascinating mathematics.  After this class, you should be aware of the many ways mathematics plays a role in politics and should understand that effective participation in the democratic process requires quantitative literacy and a certain amount of mathematical prowess. You will learn that understanding the mathematics behind various socio-economic and political forces is often necessary for making informed, rational decisions about the world around you and for affecting meaninful change.

Class meetings will take on different formats and will include presentations and discussions. Assignments will also be varied, consisting of problem sets, written assignments, and readings. The prerequisite is a solid command of algebra. No background in political science is required.