Election 101 — By the Numbers (AKA Math and Elections)

Introduction

What does math have to do with politics? Quite a lot, actually.

During the course of an election, everyone wants to know who is leading the race. Which poll do you believe and how to they get their data and rank the candidates? There are many different rating and ranking methods, many of which can be found in Who’s #1? by Carl Meyer and Amy Langville.

There are just about as many voting methods as there are for ranking candidates. The most common include majority rule, where the person with more than half the votes wins; proportional representation, where the number of seats won is proportional to the percentage of votes received; and plurality voting where the person with the most votes wins, even if it is not more than half. Many people believe that the third option is the fairest. Read the following and see if you agree. Mary, John, and Bill all want to be class president. Mary gets 8 votes, John 7, and Bill 6. Mary is the winner because she has the most votes. However, 13 people don’t believe she is qualified. Not so easy to figure out after all.

George Szpiro takes us through all the various voting methods in Numbers Rule: The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present.

Politicians always want to know who will vote for them. As the election heats up in the US, candidates are trying to figure out which states deserve most of their campaign time and dollars.” If New York State is not voting for me no matter what, I am spending my time in California.”

Andrew Gelman has simplified these decisions for them in Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State: Why Americans Vote the Way They Do. After the US presidential election in 2008 he revised his book to include all the data indicating which states voted for which candidates by sex, financial status, race, and many other factors.

And last but not least, if you are a candidate with a less than full bank account, you might want to read In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman by William Cook to find the fastest and cheapest way to visit all of your constituents.

–Vickie Kearn, Executive Editor in Mathematics

 

Exclusive Excerpt

Click here to download an article on the Electoral College

Excerpted from The Concise Princeton Encyclopedia of American Political History.

 

Featured Book

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Who’s #1?
The Science of Rating and Ranking
Amy N. Langville & Carl D. Meyer

 

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reading list


 

The Reading List

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Red State, Blue State, Rich State, Poor State

Why Americans Vote the Way They Do (Expanded Edition)
Andrew Gelman
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Who’s #1?

The Science of Rating and Ranking
Amy N. Langville & Carl D. Meyer
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Numbers Rule

The Vexing Mathematics of Democracy, from Plato to the Present
George G. Szpiro
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Mathematics and Democracy

Designing Better Voting and Fair-Division Procedures
Steven J. Brams
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In Pursuit of the Traveling Salesman

Mathematics at the Limits of Computation
William J. Cook
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Guesstimation

Solving the World’s Problems on the Back of a Cocktail Napkin
Lawrence Weinstein & John A. Adam
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Picturing the Uncertain World

How to Understand, Communicate, and Control Uncertainty through Graphical Display
Howard Wainer

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