What We Are Reading Today: Persuasive Peers; Social Communication and Voting in Latin America

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Updated 28 October 2020

What We Are Reading Today: Persuasive Peers; Social Communication and Voting in Latin America

Edited by Andy Baker, Barry Ames, and Lucio Renno

In Latin America’s new democracies, political parties and mass partisanship are not deeply entrenched, leaving many votes up for grabs during election campaigns. In a typical presidential election season, between one-quarter and one-half of all voters—figures unheard of in older democracies—change their voting intentions across party lines in the months before election day. Advancing a new theory of Latin American voting behavior, Persuasive Peers argues that political discussions within informal social networks among family members, friends, neighbors, coworkers, and acquaintances explain this volatility and exert a major influence on final voting choices.

Relying on unique survey and interview data from Latin America, the authors show that weakly committed voters defer to their politically knowledgeable peers, creating vast amounts of preference change as political campaigns unfold. Peer influences also matter for unwavering voters, who tend to have social contacts that reinforce their voting intentions. Social influence increases political conformity among voters within neighborhoods, states, and even entire regions, and the authors illustrate how party machines use the social topography of electorates to buy off well-connected voters who can magnify the impact of the payoff.

Persuasive Peers demonstrates how everyday communication shapes political outcomes in Latin America’s less-institutionalized democracies.


What We Are Reading Today: The Best Writing on Mathematics by Mircea Pitici

Updated 25 November 2020

What We Are Reading Today: The Best Writing on Mathematics by Mircea Pitici

This annual anthology brings together the year’s finest mathematics writing from around the world. Featuring promising new voices alongside some of the foremost names in the field, The Best Writing on Mathematics 2020 makes available to a wide audience many articles not easily found anywhere else—and you don’t need to be a mathematician to enjoy them. These writings offer surprising insights into the nature, meaning, and practice of mathematics today. They delve into the history, philosophy, teaching, and everyday aspects of math, and take readers behind the scenes of today’s hottest mathematical debates.

Here, Steven Strogatz reveals how calculus drives advances in virology, Paul Thagard argues that the power of mathematics stems from its combination of realistic and fictional qualities, and Erica Klarreich describes how Hao Huang used the combinatorics of cube nodes to solve a longstanding problem in computer science. In other essays, John Baez tells how he discovered the irresistible attractions of algebraic geometry.