Course Description

How can a candidate in a political race win the majority of votes yet lose the election? How can minorities comprise almost half the electorate in a district yet have no representation in 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?
In this workshop, we will look at the mathematics behind these and related questions that arise from and have bearing on politics. We will study topics such as fairness, social choice, game theory, apportionment, correlation and causation, etc. through the prism of rigorous mathematics. Some of the particular topics we will look at advantages and disadvantages of various voting practices, some surprising paradoxes that arise from common voting systems, basic problems of game theory, geometry behind gerrymandering, regulation of cryptography and repercussions on privacy, and data interpretation.
Since this is a short workshop, we will not be able to delve deeply into very many topics. But this is not the point — the goal of this workshop is to illustrate the importance of rigorous reasoning in various political processes while providing a fun 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 hopefully realize — and spread the word — that it is impossible to make informed, rational decisions about the world around you and affect meaninful change without understanding the mathematics behind the myriad of socio-economic and political forces at play.
The prerequisite for the workshop is a solid command of algebra. No background in political science is required.