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PRINTED FROM the OXFORD RESEARCH ENCYCLOPEDIA, POLITICS (oxfordre.com/politics). (c) Oxford University Press USA, 2020. All Rights Reserved. Personal use only; commercial use is strictly prohibited (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 09 July 2020

Summary and Keywords

Political systems involve citizens, voters, politicians, parties, legislatures, and governments. These political actors interact with each other and dynamically alter their strategies according to the results of their interactions. A major challenge in political science is to understand the dynamic interactions between political actors and extrapolate from the process of individual political decision making to collective outcomes. Agent-based modeling (ABM) offers a means to comprehend and theorize the nonlinear, recursive, and interactive political process. It views political systems as complex, self-organizing, self-reproducing, and adaptive systems consisting of large numbers of heterogeneous agents that follow a set of rules governing their interactions. It allows the specification of agent properties and rules governing agent interactions in a simulation to observe how micro-level processes generate macro-level phenomena. It forces researchers to make assumptions surrounding a theory explicit, facilitates the discovery of extensions and boundary conditions of the modeled theory through what-if computational experiments, and helps researchers understand dynamic processes in the real-world. ABM models have been built to address critical questions in political decision making, including why voter turnouts remain high, how party coalitions form, how voters’ knowledge and emotion affect election outcomes, and how political attitudes change through a campaign. These models illustrate the use of ABM in explicating assumptions and rules of theoretical frameworks, simulating repeated execution of these rules, and revealing emergent patterns and their boundary conditions. While ABM has limitations in external validity and robustness, it provides political scientists a bottom-up approach to study a complex system by clearly defining the behavior of various actors and generate theoretical insights on political phenomena.

Keywords: agent-based modeling, political decision making, political psychology, political behavior, computer simulation

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