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Comparative Analysis of Political Systems



[BSc], WP, ID, PSc

Admission Requirements

This course is available to second-year students.


This course aims to provide students with a broad understanding of the main concepts and theories in the field of comparative politics. Specifically, the course will focus on the analysis of political institutions across different countries in Europe and other parts of the world. Whereas the course will primarily draw on the Western liberal democracies as empirical cases and examples, the political systems and institutions of non-Western democracies and non-democracies will be analyzed as well. In this sense, an important goal of the course is to understand what various forms institutions take, how and why they vary, where they come from and what effects they have within their respective polities.

Whereas the course will start with the analysis of broad concepts like the state, the nation, and various regime types (democracies, authoritarian states, hybrid regimes, etc.), from the third week onwards the comparison between different types of institutions such as electoral systems, political parties, parliaments, executives, judiciaries, bureaucracies, the media, and federal, regional, and local governments will be addressed. In addition, attention will be paid to interest groups, social movements, and the interaction between national institutions and the supranational institutions of the EU.

Course Objectives

After taking this course, students should be able to:

  • Understand the origins, role, and working of political institutions.

  • Understand and compare different political systems across countries.

  • Show knowledge of the following topics: states, nations, regimes, executives, legislatures, judiciaries, party systems, electoral systems, bureaucracies, interest groups, and federalism.

  • Appreciate the merits of different approaches and methods.

  • Apply learned concepts and relevant literature to the comparison of political systems.

  • Report on their findings orally and in written form.

Mode of Instruction

This course meets twice a week for two hours. It will include both short lectures and class discussions of the readings and key aspects of the topics. The formal readings and lectures are complemented by classroom discussions, which encourage active participation and help students to articulate ideas. Each session will start with a 10-minute group presentation of a small number of students, in which they present and discuss the main typology and/or classification of the institution(s) that is/are central in that session. In addition, each student will be asked to write two papers of 2.000 words, in which they critically examine and compare the operation and effects of an institution in two or three countries. In these papers, students should be able to demonstrate their ability to understand and apply theories and concepts to real world-cases, and to be able to compare these cases analytically and insightfully. The preparation and active participation of students is a critical component of this course, and students will also be graded on the basis of their participation in class discussions.


In-class participation: 20%
Group presentation: 20% (Weeks 1-8)
Research essay (2000 words): 30% (Weeks 1-4)
Research essay (2000 words): 30% (Weeks 5-8)



Hague, Rod, and Martin Harrop (2013). Comparative Government and Politics; An Introduction. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan (9th edition).

Selected articles available via the (digital) Leiden University library.


Caramani, Daniele (ed.) (2011). Comparative Politics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gallagher, Michael, Michael Laver, and Peter Mair (2011). Representative Government in Modern Europe. New York: McGraw –Hill (5th edition).

O’Neil, Patrick (2009). Essentials of Comparative Politics. New York: W.W. Norton & Company (3rd edition).

Contact Information

Dr. Wouter P. Veenendaal
Institute of Political Science
Leiden University
Wassenaarseweg 52
2333 AK Leiden, The Netherlands
Room 5B48
+ 31 (0)71 527 79 56

Weekly Overview

1 (7 April) Introduction to Comparative Politics
2 (10 April) States & Nations
3 (14 April) Regimes: Democracies
4 (17 April) Regimes: Non-Democracies and Hybrid Regimes
5 (21 April) No Class: Easter Break
6 (24 April) Political Culture and Political Participation
7 (28 April) Elections and Electoral Systems
8 (1 May) Political Parties and Party Systems
9 (5 May) No Class: Bevrijdingsdag (Victory in Europe Day)
10 (8 May) Social Movements and Interest Groups
11 (12 May) Parliaments
12 (15 May) Executives
13 (19 May) Public Administration and Bureaucracy
14 (22 May) Constitutions and Judiciaries
15 (26 May) Political Communication and the Media
16 (29 May) No Class: Ascension Day
17 (2 June) Federalism, Decentralization, and Local Government
18 (5 June) Conclusion

Preparation for first session

Students are expected to have studied the course syllabus closely before the start of the first session. Students are also strongly encouraged to revisit readings from previous courses dealing with basic theoretical approaches in comparative politics.

Compulsory Literature for the First Session:
Hague, Rod, and Martin Harrop (2013): pp. 1-7; 76-91; 361-373.