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Electoral Competition in Contemporary Democracies


Admission requirements



Electoral competition is an essential dimension of representative democracy. Aspiring and incumbent politicians compete in elections to win political office and thereby provide crucial alternatives for voters. Hence, electoral competition and conflict fundamentally shape democratic outcomes. This competition, however, can manifest in various ways and patterns. This elective course focuses on the different characteristics of competition that occur in modern-day democracies as well as their potential implications for democracy. What are the patterns of ideological conflict, how have these changed and how do politicians strategically navigate such conflicts? Have individual leaders become more important in the competition and what would be the implications for democracy? By looking at the different characteristics and patterns of competition in a wide and diverse set of contemporary democracies, this course offers answers to these questions. Students who follow this course get a comprehensive overview of the different manifestations of electoral competition and can recognize as well as analyse such patterns in the world around them. In addition, given the significance of the year 2024 as a historic election year, the course places particular emphasis on elections that have occurred before or are set to take place during the class (such as elections in Brazil, Indonesia, India, the United States, Mexico, the United Kingdom), offering students a timely perspective on contemporary democratic politics.

Course objectives

Upon completion of this course, students will be able to:

  • Explain the core scientific concepts and theories of electoral competition;

  • Identify the dilemmas that political actors face in competitive elections;

  • Evaluate the potential implications of different patterns of competition for democracy;

  • Apply the main theories and concepts of political competition by critically comparing political competition in varied political contexts;

  • Participate in academic and political discussions on electoral competition.

Mode of instruction

Seminar, one 2-hour session a week. Attendance is obligatory.

Assessment method

The final grade consists of

  • a group country report (35%)

  • a final paper (50%)

  • in-class participation (15%)

Reading list

There will be no textbook for this course. Readings include book chapters and journal articles which will be available through the university library. The course syllabus will be made available via Brightspace before the start of the course.


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Denny van der Vlist