Aston University: Aston University study shows mathematical model indicates that voters are more likely to choose ‘hawks’ over ‘doves’

Analysing the politics of a voting process through the language of mathematics, interdisciplinary researchers have collaborated to understand why voters may be more likely to choose a ‘hawkish’ than a ‘dovish’ leader – despite their own rational response to the question.

This study, entitled A Model of Conflict and Leadership: Is There a Hawkish Drift in Politics? analyses comparative ‘pay-offs’ between voters and politicians to understand the choice of leadership, essentially why voters may be more likely to choose a ‘hawkish’ rather than a ‘dovish’ leader.

Published in PLOS ONE, the study indicates that the bulk of voters’ opinions are guided by a politician’s ability to manage or dominate potential conflict – and that makes them more attractive to the electorate. Leaders are viewed as protectors who are then licensed to play the ‘hard man’s’ game, their actions incentivised by ‘payoffs’ such as acquiring land.

The study hints at ‘dovish’ leaders potentially adopting tougher policies than they would have by default, under pressure from ‘hawkish’ politicians.

However, the model also indicates that the public support for hawks tapers off as they become more powerful, which in the study is quantified as a ‘land-grab’ fraction. The mathematical modelling lead in this study, Dr Amit K Chattopadhyay, a Reader in Mathematics at Aston University believes believes that “this indicates that voters may not want their leaders to be too hawkish, as ultra-hawkishness could inspire dictatorship”.

The model explains the origin of conflict as a key element in distributing resources. Stronger opposition to a hawk’s settlement proposal is met with even fewer resources given up, triggering the bulk of the electorate to refuse these terms. Mathematically, this is read as a non-equilibrium system of interacting agents who strategically combine towards a central decision-making process.

The mathematical modelling lead in this study, Dr Chattopadhyay said: “The study highlights a potential new understanding of the origin of conflict in a payoff-model, indicating that it arises from re-election motives and that the incentive compatible re-election standard does not necessarily achieve the second best.

“This is a specific application of the notion of political failure. While such political failure and ‘excessive behaviour’ have been analysed in other contexts e.g. deficit financing inefficient transfer to special interest groups or in voters’ models, the present study analyses conflict between a voter and the politician as a clash of interests where the dominant, that is the ‘hawk’, often is seen winning. An auxiliary of this analysis is the understanding as to what constitutes best for the voters is often not the loadstone of a hawkish politician’s decision-making process that can be incentivised on personal goals.”

Within the paper, the researchers from the Aston University, the University of Adelaide, Australia and the University of Birmingham point to and analyse examples across the political spectrum of both ‘hawks’ and ‘doves’ toughening their positions in the face of conflict.

Dr Chattopadhyay added: “Political decisions are often governed by the nature of leadership, not necessarily by the bulk choice of the electorate they represent. Be it Tony Blair making a drastic call on the Iraq war sanction, Australian Home Minister Alex Hawke inflicting a veto against his own court in refusing visa for Novak Djokovic, or the Chinese President Xi Jinping unilaterally declaring hawkish aggression on shared borders with India, hawkish leaders are being increasingly seen in control of international decision making.”

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