Introduction to comparative politics: understanding differences in political systems

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This course aims to provide an introduction to how political science tries to explain differences in political systems across countries and time. The main empirical differences in institutions, political behaviour and political outcomes across both developed and developing countries will be presented with the help of some of the main theories and methods in political science. Topics will include an introduction to the concept of democracy and the main differences between democratic and non-democratic regimes; an introduction to how political preferences are formed, how voters, parties and interest groups behave, and how electoral systems shape behaviour; explanations of how political institutions work in presidential and parliamentary systems, agenda setters and veto players, single-party and coalition governments, federalism, and delegation; explanations of how institutions and behaviour affect policy outcomes, such as economic performance, social and environmental protection. Each student will be asked to adopt a country (other than their own) at the beginning of the course in order to become an expert in its government, politics and policy, and be able to contribute to seminar discussions. Case studies will include such varied systems as those of the United Kingdom, United States, France, Russia, India, China, or Iran, and the emerging political system of the European Union.


1. What is political science? 2. Democracy. 3. Political preferences and voting behaviour. 4. Electoral systems and political behaviour. 5. Political parties: polarisation or convergence? 6. Interest groups and social movements. 7. Regime types, agenda setters and veto players. 8. Coalition and single-party government. 9. Levels of government: federalism and decentralisation. 10. Delegation of power, executives and courts. 11. Economic performance. 12. Social and enviromental protection. 13. Satisfaction with democracy: input- and output-oriented performance models.

Indicative reading: 

W Clark, M Golder and S Nadenichek Golder, Principles of Comparative Politics, 2nd edn, CQ Press, 2012; J Colomer, The Science of Politics: An Introduction, Oxford University Press, 2011; S. Hix and B. Høyland, The political system of the European Union, Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. A Lijphart, Patterns of Government: Government Forms and Performance in Thirty-Six Countries, Yale University Press, 1999; P.H. O'Neil and K. Fields, Cases in Comparative Politics, WW Norton & Company, 2015.

Monday, 11 July, 2016 to Friday, 29 July, 2016
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