A few years ago, Simon invented a game to model coalitions in the European Parliament (also described here and here). I decided to try it in my comparative politics as a lesson in how legislatures function. After some confusion as students figured out what to do, they clustered into two coalitions; the outcome loosely resembled a two-party/median voter system. But I had forgotten to remove the high-value cards from the deck before starting the game. The class has only fourteen students, and the distribution of card values was so great that it was difficult for students to accumulate influence points.
I decided to run the game again in the next class, after removing face cards from the deck. Influence points were calculated the same as before. But I added a twist. Each student received additional instructions that varied according to the value of his or her card:
- Value 1 to 3: “Ideologically you believe in the necessity of a strong military for national defense, and you oppose government regulation of the economy. Deviation from these principles might reduce your support among voters and prevent your re-election.”
- Value 4 to 7: “Your political party won the overwhelming majority of the vote in your district. If you follow the party line while serving out your term in parliament, there is a good chance you will be re-elected. If you do not, the party might throw its resources behind some other candidate in the next election in the hopes of retaining popular support.”
- Value 8 to 10: “Ideologically you believe that a large military is a drain on tax revenue that could be used to fund other, more useful programs, and you favor government regulation to protect the environment. Deviation from these principles might reduce your support among voters and prevent your re-election.”
After handing each student a slip of paper with one of these messages on it, I displayed this statement on the screen at the front of the room:
“Conservation biologists have discovered a new species, the Gray-Tufted Banderwot, inhabiting several military bases on the East and West Coasts of the USA. The species may play an important role in regional biodiversity.
Bill before the legislature:
The Gray-Tufted Banderwot shall be declared an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act of 1973. Commercial and military activities shall be prohibited within a one kilometer radius of its identified nesting grounds.”
I then let students caucus before holding a vote on the bill. Again two large coalitions formed, but two students with low-value cards that put them on the same ideological extreme splintered off. To demonstrate ideological purity and maximize their chances for re-election, they refused to act in concert with either coalition or with other members of their own parties. When the vote on the bill was held, they voted against it, but it passed anyway.
Coincidentally, the second iteration of the game occurred just a few days after the Republican Party’s Freedom Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives killed health care legislation backed by the rest of the House Republicans and by President Trump. So the game reflected reality quite well, and running the game twice allowed for more discussion about legislatures and the behavior of elected representatives.