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Comparative Party Systems



[BSc], GED, ID, Psc

Admission requirements

  • Classes of 2013-2016: similarly-tagged 100/200-level courses, ideally Introduction to Comparative Politics, or permission from the instructor.

Course description

Understanding the functioning of democratic and representative politics requires knowledge of political parties and party systems. Parties represent the main vehicles for the aggregation of societal interests and they remain at the core of the political process, from elections to government formation and the generation of policy. Parties structure political competition among voters, party activists, and party elites and they are consequential for the political interactions within the executive-legislative arena and beyond.

This course aims to present students with a systematic overview of political parties and party systems, in a comparative framework. The first weeks of the course will cover important questions related to the origins and organization of political parties, party types and ideological labels. The class will then center on party systems – the dimensions along which they differ and the factors driving party system change. Throughout the class, the focus of the material will cover all stages of the political process at which parties operate, including the electoral and government domains. A major component of the course will also link distinct institutional features with party systems characteristics. For example, we will consider at length the impact of electoral rules on the number of political parties in a given polity.

The theoretical material will also be empirically grounded, with a focus on both advanced democracies and newly democratic countries. A special section will be devoted to the discussion of party politics at the level of the European Union.

Learning objectives

Upon completion of the course, students will be expected to successfully:

  • Understand why political parties are necessary for democratic politics and why they occupy such a central role within it

  • Identify the most important components of parties as organizations

  • Identify the major dimensions along which party systems differ, both theoretically and in a comparative perspective

  • Understand the connection between electoral rules and party system features and be able to critically apply this knowledge to specific cases

Compulsory textbook

Mair, P. (1990) (Ed.). The West European Party System. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Ware, A. (1996). Political Parties and Party Systems. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.